From the Column

Dirt’s Big Year

Last year may have been a lot of things to a lot of people but one thing it surely wasn’t was predictable. I mean who foresaw last year’s record-setting high in the U.S. stock market, the plunge in global crude oil prices, Russia’s naked grab of Ukraine’s sovereign territory or the Obama Administration’s reaching out […]

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You’re Right, I’m Wrong… Next!

The email got the point as quickly as a working hammer gets to a nail: “Alan—You have got to be kidding me—production agriculture ‘embrace’ the EPA clean water regulations?” it asked not really seeking an answer. The question was sent in reaction to a mid-September column that urged farmers and ranchers to work with the […]

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

Originally published in 1994, “Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving” continues to be the most requested, most reprinted Farm and Food File column. The column inspired The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey which will be published by The University of Illinois Press in May 2015.  The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods […]

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Insuring Elephants

Federally subsidized crop insurance is the elephant in the Farm Bill pantry and anyone who had any role in pushing the law through the zoo called Congress knows it. What most didn’t know, however, was when Big Ag would finally acknowledge its huge appetite and suffocating presence. Enter Mary Kay Thatcher, a long-time, well-respected Washington, […]

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Groundhog Day, Again and Again

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, Christmas in the windshield, and given the glacial pace of key policy decisions awaiting resolution in Washington, D.C., it’s just another Groundhog Day out here in rural America. Those decisions, after two years of heavy duty do-nothingness, are coming slower than the deadlines faced by this Congress and the […]

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All Right Already, Fix It

If you ran your farm or ranch like the White House and Congress run the federal government, your corn would never get planted and your cows would be long gone. Of course, if you ran your farm or ranch anywhere near the level of—what?— the scornful divisiveness and almost pure reactionary politics that now guide […]

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Quantitative Spinning

Against all odds, economics, the dismal science, has become even more dismal. Since the Great Recession of 2008, what once was equal parts science and art is now equal parts politics and disdain. What I mean is that nearly every economic report and analysis now comes freighted with political spin and partisan derision. Economic numbers—jobs, […]

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Roberts Reboots and Other Coincidences

While Republicans, Democrats and Independents voted nationwide Nov. 4, coincidence, irony and “Huh?” were the big winners Nov. 5. For example, nationally, according to early numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, candidates spent $3.7 billion on 2014 elections, the most in U.S. history, to get Americans to vote for them. (Links to source […]

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Bring It On

Fall’s first frost, usually a mid-October event in my adopted central Illinois, waited until the last possible monthly moment—deep into Halloween night—to finally show winter’s white face. We didn’t so much see it coming as feel it coming. A stern northwest wind arrived before sun-up that day and built into a gale by noon. It […]

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The Endless Politics of GMOs

It’s tough being a genetically modified organism in election season because no election passes without someone or some state slamming you for being, well, you. This election is no different. Voters in Oregon and Colorado are in the home stretch of multi-million-dollar ballot fights to decide if you will be identified and labeled in and […]

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