Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Ag Hot Five No. 2


In the previous "Hot Five," I reported that Glyphosate or Roundup resistant superweeds may mean that peak efficiency of modern industrial agriculture is behind us. This time, same story, different verse, for modern medicine due to drug resistant antibiotics. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, has issued a warning that we are returning to a time when a child's knee scrape could end up fatal and a hip replacement surgery would be too risky due to drug resistant bacteria. She added that the pipeline for new antibiotics is empty, the cupboard is bare as we enter a post-antibiotic era in medicine.

Modern medicine is frivolous in its unlimited monetary spending in the U.S. today using highly advanced technology and procedures, but when it comes down to what has really increased our health and longevity in the developed nations it is access to clean water, nutritious food, hygiene, sanitation, antibiotics, vaccinations, and sterile technique for surgeries. IF we are returning to a time in which antibiotics become ineffective, there will no longer be any modern day guarantees that a healthy newborn will make it to adulthood and we will see our human life spans shorten considerably from where they are today.

Industrial livestock production methods freely use antibiotics in raising pigs, cattle, poultry, and fish (aquaculture). We have abused a priceless resource in overusing our first line of defense antibiotics, our penicillins and tetracyclines, by feeding them in unregulated continual low doses to healthy animals for growth enhancement and to help enable them to live in dangerously crowded conditions. Up to 70% of U.S. antibiotics go to farm animals that are not sick. Warnings have been issued by scientists along the way, and the E.U. has put use regulations in place, but the U.S. and Canada have not. Now we are left with drug-resistant strains of salmonella, E. coli, Staph aureus, and many other bacteria.

We have also used antibiotics inappropriately in humans, with half of the antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. unnecessary and counterfeit drugs used elsewhere are also contributing to this global problem. Inappropriate treatment of tuberculosis has also led to untreatable drug-resistant TB in many regions of the world, currently growing at an alarming rate including cities in the developed world. Globalization and modern travel contribute to the spread of these diseases. Deaths from drug-resistant gut bacteria from antibiotic overuse are also rising rapidly. Just as I said last week, "it didn't last long, did it?" — as Fleming's laboratory work with Penicillium mold happened in 1928, a mere 84 years ago.

Sources here and here and here.


Even as the most successful corporations (such as Walmart) grow through gains in efficiency, so it goes with farms. Greater efficiency amongst the largest, be it grocery stores or farms, means the smaller less efficient producer gets squeezed out during times of stress due to weather, the economy, or other conditions. So it is no surprise that a recent USDA report continues to show that U.S. agricultural production has been shifting toward larger farms because they are more profitable, and much of that is policy-driven. As it does continue, current payment limits and income eligibility caps may affect a larger share of government farm payments. (The Federal Government supports farmers through conservation programs, commodity-related programs, disaster payments, federally subsidized crop insurance, and other programs.)

Since the current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30th of this year, negotiations are currently under way to make changes to existing policy, something that happens about every five years. In my opinion, any changes to current policy which can help support smaller farms would be most desirable. This would promote employment, national food security, biodiversity, and rural infrastructure and quality of life. Also, note that this trend towards large efficient farms of scale is not only happening here in the U.S., but other countries as well.


To make money, you have to spend money, and that is why I'd like to point out that if you need to replace rear tractor wheels these days, it could cost you around $1,500 to $2,500, depending upon whether they are new or used, or who makes them. The above set of 2 rear tires is for sale on the "Machine Finder" site, requesting $2,650 for this Flanged Rear Wheel John Deere 460/85r38. But, that price isn't bad compared to needing rear sets of duals (4), or, a well-used pair of 2006 John Deere 5500 tracks which could set you back $21,000. (Some tire ads list the percent of rubber contained in the tire — worth paying attention to.)


One advantage of our information age is that we should be able to glean the most useful technologies from every time period and global region and apply them where appropriate today. This brings us to the subject of sand dams which were developed by the Romans in 400BC. Experts agree that Africa is especially well-suited to benefit from this fairly simple concept. One sand dam can provide clean drinking water and enough water for gardening and farming for a thousand people, lasting several months after the rains have fallen. The ultimate rain water collection system, they create a life generating spring where there was none before by storing wet season water in sand, which filters the water and keeps it from evaporating. A hand pump can be installed which accesses the deeper stored, clean water. Fruit and other trees can be planted near the dams and grass can be added for erosion control.

To construct the dams, villages line up to dig a deep trench which is filled with concrete and the rainy season backfills the new wall with sand over several rainy seasons. These walls might be 90 meters long and 2-4 meters high. Located across small rivers which stop flowing in the dry season, the sand becomes about 40% saturated with water and can hold 2-10 million liters. This technique has been used in India, Africa, and South America for the last fifty years, but remains underutilized.

To learn more, watch this video.


Ever Wind Power out of Toronto, Canada continues to introduce wind generators suitable for use on farms. They are now selling a 10kW Vertical Axis Wind Turbine which can be mounted on a barn rooftop — or a pole. "This style is eye pleasing, reliable, affordable, has very little vibration, doesn't kill birds, catches wind from any direction, and produces little noise," according to the company website. They suggest that this generator can be the regular power supply system for a home in combination with a 2.5KW PV solar energy system, and multiple units can be placed on one barn roof.

[Please do your own DD before investing in any wind system.]

To learn more visit here and here.