Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn’t

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Thankful in Texas

Each year, my wife and I celebrate Thanksgiving, and depending on where our daughter is, and where her soldier may be, the two generally join us for a modest but plentiful meal of turkey and other typical dishes.  This year will be like most, as my daughter joined us while her husband serves a tour in Afghanistan.  We talk about him, wishing he’d been here, and gave thanks for all we have, but this year is a little different than most.  Life on a farm can be hard, but when you deal with livestock, there are certain hazards you accept, and while you seek to mitigate and minimize them through thinking about safety first, on some occasions, due to bad luck, absent-mindedness, or simple miscalculation, when things go wrong, they can go wrong all at once, leaving a disaster in the wake.  This week has been such a time on our farm, when the mundane and simple task of feeding our horses turned into a nightmare.  As it has happened, we wound up quite lucky, but it could have gone differently for this will go down in the family book of lore as the Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t.

Working the hours we do, plus tending to all the chores of the farm, one of the seasonal adjustments that happens each year is that due to shortening days as we near the Winter solstice, the evening feeding time moves up a bit to permit all chores to be completed before the sun goes down.  No group of people is more tuned to the changing of the seasons than those who labor in agricultural endeavors, because that floating orb of superheated plasma that lights our days and warms our Earth is really the dominant force governing life on this planet.  When I depart work this time of year, the sun is already low on the horizon, and the daylight is nearly gone.  For this reason, my better half sets out to feed the herd and to dispense with the evening chores because by the time I arrive home, the last embers of burning daylight are slipping from the sky.

So it was this week that as my wife came to the last pasture that as she began to dispense the feed, the band of mares was typically unruly as any zoo at feeding time.  Determined to be done with the days chores, as she began to distribute the feed, there arose a bit of euphoria among the mares: “Hurrah, it’s supper time.”  One of the mares, in uncharacteristic exuberance, launched into a flurry of bucking and kicking, as a young colt might do under the watchful gaze of his dam.  Unfortunately for my wife, she didn’t see it coming, looking up just in time to catch a flying hoof about her brow.  An inch closer to the mare, and she’d have never placed the phone-call, but as the blood streamed from the crater, she called me at work. “I just got kicked in the head by one of the mares.”

I rushed home and kept her on the line, knowing head trauma victims are best kept calm and conscious.  She refused to let me call an ambulance, insisting I would be faster anyway, without the cost.  There is some reason to think she’s right, but as I told her, the EMTs in the ambulance can do things I can’t.  She insisted.  I continued to roll, with all apologies to any relevant authorities.  I pulled into the yard, and she was standing there waiting for me, so I pulled alongside her and threw open the door.  As she climbed in, I looked at the wound, and I had to look away because I didn’t wish to upset her more than necessary, as I sped down the road to the hospital ER just ten minutes away, as the Mustang flies.  Arriving at the Emergency Room as she walked through the door, the nurses at the front desk couldn’t conceal their shock and they ushered her immediately back.

After a CT scan mercifully revealed no brain hemorrhaging, but also no fractures, the team in the trauma center began the process of flushing the wound and then stitching her brow and forehead back together.  Multiple layers of stitches later, her face swelling as her left eye became a slit, our daughter present, we talked about happier times while we all contemplated how close this ugly accident had come to outright disaster.  Life is so fragile, and our time here so short, in the hustle and bustle of the everyday grind, it is well that Americans have a day set aside to count their many blessings and remember to say thanks to the Almighty.

This evening, as we clean up the kitchen, and put up the left-overs, we’ll be thankful to remember this as the Thanksgiving that almost wasn’t.  I will keep it as a reminder of how temporary life is, and how suddenly it can be lost, and how dear to me are all whom I love.  For all of the ugliness of the last few days, I am still surrounded by the people I love, so that through all the travails and tribulations our nation may yet endure, we can still count ourselves among the very lucky.  I hope on this day of turkey, and shared celebration, each of you find yourselves in similar company, knowing full and well the blessings of the day. Say “Thanks.” Say them often. Hug those around you a little tighter, since we never know the day or the manner in which it can all end.

Note: I wish a very Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers!  May you have so many reasons to be thankful as I.

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Republicans in Congress Shafting Us Again

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Mmmm, Pork!

We shouldn’t even be having this conversation.  It shouldn’t be possible that with all our efforts in 2010 that the Republican majority in the House is even considering this bill.  We wanted Congress to get the spending under control, but instead, it seems as though many of the members we elected on the basis of getting the nation’s financial house in order are instead using the occasion of the Obama administration’s spendthrift ways as cover for more of the same.  The new farm bill is a scorched-Earth policy that heaps new debt upon the nation, reaching forward a whole decade(as if somebody could possibly know what will be needed in farming ten years in the future,) and makes pay-outs of subsidies invisible to the public.  In addition, it locks in Obama’s Food-stamps spending at nearly $80 billion per year.  Why would any Republicans, never mind alleged “conservatives,” go along with this? H.R. 6083 promises nearly one-trillion dollars in spending over ten years.  As an excellent article on Breitbart details, we’re shafted if this is the answer of Republicans.

Agricultural subsidies are popular in farm states, so that it’s easy to understand what’s going on.  This is the same sort of welfarism that the Democrats employ, and it’s clear that no small number of the farm state Democrats will join in the vote in favor of the bill. It’s also clear that a large number of Democrats will vote for the bill due to the locked-in SNAP/Food-Stamps spending levels.  For those less than perfectly familiar with the sort of thing government does in agriculture, consider the ethanol subsidies as one, but also consider the crop insurance program as another.  Both are harmful to our general economy, and both take from tax-payers to redistribute to others, but what they do most of all is to make our farmers dependent upon big government. More, by tying it up with the Food-Stamps/SNAP program, it Congressional “leaders” help to assure easy passage.

The crop insurance program is designed to basically pay farmers if the invest in planting subsidized crops that are ruined by weather, drought, or other natural condition that prevents them from recovering their investment in the planted crop.  This is a terrible idea because it does something nobody else in the market can rationally expect: It removes all risk from the activity, and actually encourages extraordinary risk-taking.  Fields that perhaps shouldn’t be put in production, or should be planted in something else are instead planted with a crop that the farmer may even expect to fail, but is indemnified because it is one of the insured crops.  Worse, the crop “insurance” isn’t really insurance, since in actuarial terms, the small “premium” isn’t near what the mathematics would demand in a free market for such an “insurance” if that were to be its actual goal.  It’s a scam, and the biggest beneficiaries are agricultural giants and politicians.

The effect of this program is to confound the free market, results in higher prices for consumers, and generally causes an expenditure of government funds that is not necessary or proper in any respect.  At the same time, other programs like the ethanol subsidy drive more corn into ethanol production, rather than into food production, meaning that consumers who want a can of corn or a sack of corn-chips are going to pay much more for them because the government is subsidizing the conversion of the food crop to fuel.  It’s extraordinarily wasteful, and yet if you tour those states and poll the farmers who benefit, you will have the virtues of ethanol extolled in such a manner that you will be led to believe it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and it is, for those in the program.  For tax-payers and consumers, it’s an unmitigated disaster.  Add to this the fact that the supposed driver for ethanol, “environmentally friendly fuels,” is nothing but another inefficient scam and what you have is a program with no factual merit, even if it were permissible under our constitution, which it is not.

As a farmer myself, I raise a non-governmentally-preferred crop, and as a result of various government tinkering in the marketplace as I’ve detailed elsewhere, it’s making my farm an untenable proposition.  While I and other non-favored farmers pay taxes, other farmers of favored variety consume them, and borrow from the future besides, as they join other welfare moochers at the government teat.  Of course, like any other welfare program, there is no pay-back, ever.  Temporary assistance becomes permanent subsidy becomes a way of life.  Now, so ridiculous has it become that in this bill, they are actually going to make the recipients secret so you can’t know whose bread is being buttered from the public trough.

I don’t know about you, but ladies and gentlemen, if this is the kind of country we want, we will soon have it in full as this is nothing more or less than naked socialism.  Some will hang upon the strict definition of the term, arguing that government doesn’t own the means of production.  Don’t they?  It seems to me that the most important features of ownership are use and disposition, and that responsibility follows naturally along with the two.  If the government takes all risk away, alleviating responsibility, and it chooses how the resources will be subsidized, effectively determining their use and disposition, though the deed to the farm may be in some citizen’s name, who is in fact running the farm?

Farmers were once a proud and independent lot, but many of them are now merely proud without the independence to support the pride they fiercely claim. Don’t get me wrong: There are still many farmers who produce unsubsidized crops, and who take their lumps accordingly, but that number is shrinking as the number of unsubsidized crops gets smaller and the number able to stand against the leviathan withers.  More, large agri-businesses are lined up at the trough, feasting more thoroughly than any, and there are interests now buying up huge swaths of land along and in flood-plains so they can profit from the crop insurance too.  Why do you think this is being made secret?  Do you think it’s so that Farmer John’s little claim isn’t public?  No, it’s so that Congressman So-and-so’s claim won’t be revealed, and so that Corporate Agriculture’s take from the system won’t be seen publicly.  If you wanted crony capitalism combined with the welfare state, you now have it in full even in agriculture.

That Republicans you elected in 2010 to fight all of this are now supporting it is terrible enough, but when we see freshman members like Kristi Noem(R-SD,) herself a rancher, joining hands with Democrats to further such legislation, you must know we are in terrible shape.  I can’t imagine how a person can campaign for office as a constitutional conservative, but then immediately ignore that when it comes to their own pet subsidies.   Doesn’t the hypocrisy bother her?  Dr. Susan Berry, writing for Breitbart, wrrote:

“A more constructive task for Rep. Noem, and other House Republicans, would be to work out a way to disentangle the food stamp program from the agricultural policies, and then begin to promote free market principles in agriculture. “

This may be optimistic because  the fact of the matter is that none in Congress want the matter disentangled.  By having it entangled and inseparable, members are able to seek cover behind their pet portions of the bill while swallowing the rest.  It is precisely the goal of these sorts of “bipartisan” acts of Congress to create a voting bloc larger than any particular interest in order to get them all through.  Welcome to “compromise,” DC-style.  Conservatives should be livid, and the large number of ostensible conservatives in the agriculture fields should be raising Hell, but many will not because they want to be able to queue up at the trough in secret too.  In 2010, or in 2012, if this is the answer our Republican Congress provides, I’d just as soon have Democrats.  At least they don’t pretend to be conservative.