From the Column

“You’re Wrong” Is the Wrong Message

When most of us hear the words “Have I got a great deal for you!” we grab our wallets because experience suggests any forthcoming deal won’t be great.
Similarly, when someone says, “Here’s the straight talk,” our baloney meters redline because we know the coming talk will be about as straight as a hound’s hind leg.
We […]

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In Search of “Community”

Recently, a baker’s dozen of old farm and food friends got together with a group of young farm and food friends to discuss everything from yesterday’s disappointments to tomorrow’s hopes.
The differences in our age (mid-20s to early 80s), vocation (farmers to poets), education (undergraduates to Ph.Ds.), and experience (beekeeper to university dean) fueled warm—and, sometimes, […]

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We Feed the World Is “Not a Harmless Myth”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is using this harvest season to solidify its reputation as the biggest not-for-profit policy organization American farmers love to hate.
The hatred took root in 1995 when EWG published—on something called the Internet—a 10-year, searchable database of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) payments to all American farm entities. Farmers, especially the […]

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Livestock’s Bleak, Industrial Future

The more the American meat and milk sectors industrialize—via integrated contract production, fewer bigger players, machine-centered scale—the more these key parts of American agriculture resemble industry itself: commoditized products, razor-thin margins, and extended periods of steep losses.
This shift from what we once quaintly called animal husbandry has also shifted economic and political power to a […]

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On the Road: Meandering through the Canadian Maritimes

Some people like to travel by train, others prefer planes.
I like ferries, and the bigger the ferry the better the ferry.
The MV Fundy Rose, the ferry that makes the two-hour run between St. John, New Brunswick, and Digby, Nova Scotia, is a colossally big ferry. With mechanical jaws on both bow and stern, the 400-foot-long […]

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Vote Like It’s 2018

As this year’s harvest and general election roll into October, key Capitol Hill farm policy players are looking past both events to stake out negotiating territory in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill fight.
It’s not too soon. The Congress elected next month will rewrite the every-five-year law that divvies up $100 billion a year on federal […]

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Close the Barn Door

One of the oldest truisms in agriculture is the simple, rock-solid advice that the time to close the barn door is before the cows get out. Closing the door afterwards, as everyone knows, is pointless because the cows are already long gone.
Everyone, except of course, the U.S. Congress which, on Sept. 20, hosted a Senate […]

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Life in the Slow Lane

September arrived on a bright, beautiful sunbeam after one of the soggiest Augusts central Illinois ever muddled through.
The wet month was a quiet month, though. Not even the ever-cheerful wrens could find anything to sing about during the monsoon. One bird-based benefit, however, was that our lake’s always honked-off Canada geese moved on to, I […]

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Burning Down the Barn

If the prospect of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as president scares you, put down the television remote and pick up “Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity,” a new report from the United Nations Environmental Program. It makes the dour debaters look positively sunny.
OK, sure, the report’s title suggests it will be as dull […]

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There’s No “Future” In the Futures Market

As the food industry continues to consolidate into fewer, bigger players, the price risk it once hedged in Chicago and New York futures markets is being pushed back onto the very farmers and ranchers it buys from.
The reason is simple: the Big Boys have the market power to do it.
After decades of Big Ag’s talk […]

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