Saturday, February 23, 2019

Slow on the Uptake

Megan McArdle is just one of the commentators who are using the Justsie Smollett  "fake racist attack" episode to caution people to go slow in making judgments. The quick reaction of some Democratic politicians now looks foolish, as does the reaction of the left to the Sandmann video of last month.

Going slow is always good advice.  But advice is often ignored. Daniel Kahneman wrote a good book on the subject.  We all jump to conclusions and less often are we willing to reconsider, to apply reason and/or wait for more evidence.

Anyone remember McVeigh?  IIRC President Clinton cautioned going slow and not blaming international terrorists.  (That was before 9/11, but if my memory is correct we were hyper aware of terrorists even then.)

But then it's possible to overreact to the overreaction, which is the interesting take here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Beneficial Ownership for All, Not Just Farms

If I correctly understand current payment limitation rules (dubious, at my age it's questionable what I correctly understand) farmers are required to identify the beneficial owners of the legal entities which receive farm program payments.  "Beneficial owner" meaning the live body, as we used to say, who actually gets the money in the end.

That seems to me to be right and proper, so right and proper I come to agree with AEI, not something a good Dem often does, that this should be required for all legal entities.  Without such a requirement the rich and powerful can hide behind a paper veil of dummy corporations, fake partnerships, and trusts.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

From the Ag Outlook Conference

Some items from this year's Ag Outlook conference  via Illinois extension--Farm Policy..  For those who might not know, there's an annual confab in DC where USDA types and ag people get together to assess where agriculture is and where it's going.  Typically the chief economist for the department gives an overview (I think this is one of the positions proposed to be moved from DC under the plans for relocating ERS , etc.)

From the slides we see that the states with the highest rate of bankruptcies for 2018 are ME, NY, and WI, with GA fourth.  I think this is likely the result of the consolidation of dairy farms, a subject on which I've posted fairly often recently.

Also interesting is this graph I copied from the Farm Policy.  While the line depicting the Chinese share of our export sales drops sharply, the total values don't.  This may reflect the higher value of the dollar in 2018/9--our sales volume drops but the money we get stays flat?  (I don't know, just guessing.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Advice to Trump: Don't Play Games With Congressional Appropriators

When I joined ASCS one of the things to learn was the relationship of ASCS and CCC.  Essentially the Commodity Credit Corporation was a way for USDA to put on another persona, a corporate one, allowing it to bypass the annual appropriations process.

It had the most impact for me when we were trying to impact new farm legislation and were on a very tight schedule.  Lew Calderone, the head of printing, would ask whether the program specialists could justify the rush job as fitting under the CCC's responsibilities.  When the answer was "yes", he could bypass requirements to go through the department and GPO and send the work to a printing contractor. (At least, that's the way I remember it.)

I was also aware that CCC and ASCS had separate inventories of personal property, depending on whether the item had been bought with appropriated funds (ASCS) or corporate funds (CCC).

The agency's ability to switch between ASCS and CCC personas was the envy  of other agencies,like SCS and FmHA.  

In the mid-80's through into the 90's ASCS and USDA began to use the CCC authority more widely, which is where the agency came to grief.  As I understand it, the procurement and automation people used CCC funds to buy a lot of computer gear.  What's worse, the computer projects didn't work out--success might have had a different result

Anyhow, the bottom line was the House Appropriations Committee put restrictions, tight restrictions, on ASCS and USDA on their spending, including spending of CCC money.  As far as I know those restrictions remain in the current law.

This leads to my advice to Trump: any effort to reprogram money to build your wall runs the risk of stepping on the toes of the appropriators.   If that happens, and I'm sure DOD will try to avoid touching anything in the districts of the members of House appropriations, the committee is perfectly capable of putting tight clamps in the appropriation act.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Spring Is Almost Here

Weather forecast for tomorrow is for snow, along with rain, and sleet, but I'm looking forward to spring and being able to garden again. The winter has been mild enough, except for one cold spell in February, that the ground is not frozen.  After 40 years or so gardening in the same plot of the Reston gardens the soil is good enough that it can be worked relatively early. And beyond tomorrow's snow the forecast looks pretty good.

I wonder whether people who grew up in town (i.e., suburbs/cities) have as strong a sense of cycles as do those of us who grew up on farms?  I doubt it, but don't know.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Salute to the Ballantines

Betty Ballantine died at 99, following her husband Ian.  They were very important in my life, because they founded the Bantam and Ballantine lines of paperbacks.  In the 1950's I could find a rack or two of their paperbacks in a couple stores in Greene, NY, and at $.35 or $.50 they were affordable for a teen.  I know I have a bunch of their books packed away in boxes.  I remember their line of WWII books, one by Adolf Galland the German ace, and one by C. Vann Woodward on Leyte Gulf.

And the science fiction, though I can't be sure the books I remember were Ballantines, nor some of the fiction, like "God's Little Acre", the risque book of the times.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Extremes of Farming: Enlightenment Versus Romance

Having just blogged about Netherlands agriculture and precision farming, I was struck this morning as I was skimming Twitter by a proposal to combine small farms with a small town (sorry but I didn't note the tweet and can't find it now).  It seems to be that we can see the long time contest between the Enlightenment and the Romantic eras being reenacted today in farming.

On the one hand you have the increasing consolidation of farming in the US and elsewhere, consolidation being driven by investments in technology which increase the amount of commodities per acre and per hour of labor, with decreasing inputs per unit.  It's the application of intelligence and human control to farming.  On the other hand you have the less tangible byproducts and the emotions elicited by the process of organic and/or small farming.

I guess with that summary there's no hiding which side I basically favor.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Flerds" Are the Coming Thing?

See this piece. 

Short explanation:  a "flerd" is a "flock" + a "herd", the idea being by mixing different types of animals (usually sheep/goats with cattle) you reduce predation.

Trump's Own Words

Great analysis of what Trump has said about his wall/barrier/fence and who will pay for it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Case for Intensive Farming: the Netherlands

National Geographic has a piece on Netherlands precision farming.
From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20.

I've viewed with skepticism reports about the Netherlands high value of exports, figuring it was mostly flowers of all kinds.  But it's the top exporter of potatoes and onions. I've been skeptical about proposals for vertical farming and urban farming, but this article is changing my mind. 

What I'm taking as the bottom line is intensive farming can work in the market place.  It's not clear what the additional equipment and the inputs cost, but the adoption of the techniques in the Netherlands means you likely have positive cash flow. 

I do retain a bit of skepticism--Netherlands is cited as being in the top exporters of potatoes and onions, both of which strike me as unlikely to be exported over long distances because both have high water content.