Letter from Langdon: Finite
[imgbelt img=wisconsinquarter320.jpg]The main questions about grain today are establishing a fair price and
handling leftovers. Do we keep exporting them or plow them back into the soil?
[imgcontainer left] [img:wisconsinquarter320.jpg] [source]NWW HomeThe Wisconsin quarter, showing the state’s historic debt to grain
Futures traders say “Rain makes grain,” but it takes a whole lot more than rain to build the heads, pods and cobs of everything we grow.
Growing a crop is much the same as building a factory. Both take energy and material. And any factory will wear out if it’s not kept up. Crops, like factories, require maintenance. In order to pay that cost, farms and ranches need to earn a fair return on investment and labor.
That can’t happen without fair competitive markets.
It’s popular to criticize farmers for collecting subsidies and growing grain for ethanol. Critics say that we’re burning food too valuable to waste, that grain sales for ethanol drive up feed costs and force livestock producers out of business. The truth is without a realistic evaluation of food and energy policy, we’re just using up valuable resources, tearing down factories that future generations need.
But to survive, we farmers must take our profits where we find them.
When I was a kid on the farm, Dad told me that organic matter (stuff grown on the land like grass, corn stalks, and wheat straw—even weeds) maintain fertility when we return them to the soil, like a factory recycling its own waste. That’s because not all, but a large percentage of nutrients that a growing crop uses remains behind after the grain is harvested.
During Dad’s day, average corn yielded about 80 bushels of grain per acre. Today’s national average corn yield is projected at more than 160 bushels per acre. That means this year’s crop will be producing twice the grain Dad’s average crop did in the ‘50s. Whatever the nutrient withdrawal of his crop was, mine is nearly doubled.
Biofuel critics say that growing food is better for land and people than raising feed stocks for bio-fuel. Fact is, no matter where it’s used, very little of what we grow today returns to the soil where it was born. That’s one reason why markets for fertilizer mined from the earth as well as recyclable plant nutrients from grain (manure) are rising across the country and around the world. In many areas of corn country, manure from CAFOs used to build soil fertility is a by-product that represents more profits to hog contractors than any they receive from integrators for growing livestock.
On the other hand, in livestock feeding areas less suited to grain production than to corporate expansion, toxic manure is a clean-water liability.
[imgcontainer left] [img:finitemanure400.jpg] [source]Cihacekj’s blogGetting grain back into the land (as manure), to sustain fertility