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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Feb 18, 2011

How often can we expect a great mid-February thaw? Now instead of having to push through big drifts and fight all the piled snow we get to watch it quietly disappear.

In about three or four weeks we can rejoice about having survived another Iowa winter.

All-in-all, the worst of the cold season was about six weeks long, making it much more survivable than during either of the last two years.

Most of us can remember the earth-shifting global events that seemed innocent at first, then ended up rocking the world – the power shift in Yemen, followed by the movement in Tunisia, and echoed by the Mubarak ouster in Egypt.

How might we in the U.S. expect those events a continent to affect us here? First of all, commodity supplies represent the wide supply.

Our grains and meat will end up there if they can afford them. The most pertinent effect could be that a portion of the world’s phosphate supply originates in that part of the world.

Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Russia are the big counties for P supplies. No one raises food without having ample supplies of that mineral. How long will our supply last?

More articles have also been appearing in the farm press about the rapidly expanding middle classes in countries such China and India.

At the same time we see our exalted and inept ruling class who prove constantly that they know nothing about running a country or an economy.

Thus we have to try to figure out if this commodity price surge is (a) the beginning of the 25-year hyper inflation surge; or (b) another new plateau that soon ends up cratering; or (c) a long term cycle where Maltheus is proven partially correct and the price of food in some counties is secondary to availability; or (d) a short blip that disappears once several good cropping years occur in quite a few counties.

Currently most of the prognosticators believe that A based on C is correct. Several weeks go Dave Kruse wrote a great column where he examined how grains and food were priced in this country at artificially low prices for years.

Now more mouths and salaries are after that supply.

Funding for research?

It has been interesting to observe how ag research and educational models have been set up in different parts of the world.

In Brazil the larger and progressive farmers in their respective states recognized that the producers in their areas needed crop production research geared to their climate and soil types.

They have their universities, which are more metropolitan-based.

Then they have their research foundations in the central parts of the country that were organized and funded by groups of farmers.

Those foundations then get involved in lots of different research and development activities.

These can involve everything from running research farms and doing product trials to hiring plant breeders and pathologists to help develop varieties that fit their farms and cropping needs.

Students get either three-year agronomy or five-year engineering agronomy degrees. The latter is the equivalent to a master’s in this country.

In Argentina they also have their universities where the three or five year degrees are studied for and awarded.

One thing that is different is that extension people that have lots of field experience also teach at their three- and five-year schools.

It is common for a person with a doctorate will own or operate a soil testing of diagnostic lab plus teach classes to students at a research farm that is owned by several farm cooperatives.

The profs pick up another salary and stay current with new ag topics. The students get in-field experience and get to learn how to interact with growers and company reps.

The sponsoring co-ops and retailers then have a trained pool of educated graduates with practical experience to hire from.

Why I mentioned all of this is that I happened to visit recently with an ag professional who a few years before had forwarded the idea of having a bushel-based check-off instituted to pay for independent field research.

He thought the researchers could be either university or qualified private individuals.

In today’s climate of high grain prices and the multitude of major cropping problems now occurring, is it time for such an idea to become a reality?

In this manner multiyear projects could be tackled by teams, operating in an independent manner, who no longer need to scrounge for the funding they need.

If producers and retailers in those other countries are able to get such a system in place, do we need to do likewise to generate accurate and impartial research results?

This might be worth discussing again.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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