Monday, April 30, 2012

On the Lack of French Snacks and French Slim

Via Tyler Cowen, a post arguing that the French, particularly French kids, don't snack.  I wonder, no vending machines? (Tried to do some research--this article says Japan has 10 times the number of vending machines as France, but it's twice the population.  In 2008 France banned all vending machines from schools).

And this, from Chris Blattman is a video showing how the French stay slim. Of course it involves sex, what else?

Ben Franklin and Tofu

Don't really know how I feel about this: Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, and a great bureaucrat.  Vegetarians and foodies I've reservations about.  But Boston 1775 reveals Ben Franklin discovered tofu for America!

A Good Paragraph

"The question for the rest of this election is how to judge what matters and what doesn't. I'd argue that we -- that is to say, you and I -- can't: If you're reading Wonkbook right now, you're really, really weird. You start your day with a policy e-mail. That's not how most Americans do it. And if you're weird, think about how weird I am: I start my day by writing a policy e-mail. There is no reason on earth for you to believe that I have some special insight into the mind of the average swing voter. Quite the opposite, actually."

From Ezra Klein at Wonkbook.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Myth of Texas Football

Texas football is supposedly all-encompassing  I recently noted that a high school in Texas had a bigger weight room than the Redskins (was that RGIII'?). 

But maybe that's a myth--note the second graphic in this post, which shows the home states of NFL players in proportion to their population.  Texas is not first, nor is Florida.  Instead  Louisiana and Mississippi top the list with a number of other states (like Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania)in the next category.  Texas is in the third category (no higher than 11th), along with such states as Connecticutt.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How Congresspeople Keep Groups Happy

The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition posts about the bill coming out of Senate Ag.  They include this:
The latter [the matching grant initiative, part of SARE] was authorized by Congress, along with the rest of SARE, back in 1990, but to date it has never received an appropriation.
Pardon my cynicism, but what that tells me is for 22 years someone in Congress is doing a song and dance keeping the (few) people behind SARE and the grant idea happy, or if not happy at least supportive in terms of dollars and votes, by reauthorizing the provision each farm bill but never appropriating the money.  To quote someone in the movies: "show me the money".

McDonalds Is Special, in France

Dirk Beauregarde discusses the role of McDonalds in France:
Twenty or so years ago, McDonald’s were at best tolerated and at worst unwelcome in many French towns. They were the symbols of lousy nutrition and American colonisation. Nowadays, McDonalds are part and parcel of the French cullinary landscape . In my corner of small town France we have four McDonald’s outlets, two of which offer a 24/24 7 day a week drive in service. However,, in consumption terms, McDonalds is still at « treat status ». Most families will have a McDonald’s once or even twice a month. We are not at daily consumption. Most popular mealtime of the week a tour local McDonald’s – Sunday lunchtime- all the local outlets are packed. 

[Emphasis added]

Distinguished Lawyer/Bureaucrat: Ralph Linden

According to this Government Executive post, Ralph Linden is one of the USDA winners and one of 54 Presidential  Distinguished Rank Award winners. (If I remember, the "Rank" honors a former bureaucrat Ralph's in OGC--used to be the main attorney for FSA matters. The detail in the story doesn't include a description of his special accomplishments, though I'd suspect it's for his cumulative career. 

A good man.

Friday, April 27, 2012

OIG's Thoughts

Via Chris Clayton at DTN, USDA's OIG has a report out reviewing the results of their and GAO's audits as in the light of lessons for the new farm bill:
  • they ding RMA and NRCS for deficient controls over operations and they're going to look at FSA controls on the biomass program.
  • SNAP--going to compare SNAP database with SSA's Death file.
  • staffing and workforce planning issues for FSA, FS, and FSIS.
  • concerns for FSA on peanut prices (NASS inaccurate), controls on farm-stored collateral, and problems with MILC "dairy operation" definitions.
  • concerns for NRCS on controls of conservation easements and management controls for CSP
  • concerns for FNS on SNAP: checking background of participating retailers, security of the EBT system and control of SNAP retailer fraud
  • FSA controls over emergency loans, over loan collateral, over interest rates on guaranteed loans

It's All in the Spin: Farm Bill

."Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they are not growing, will not be paid for acres that are not actually planted, and will not receive support absent a drop in price or yields."

From the press release from Chairwoman Stabenow.  That's all very well and good, but years ago the spin was something to the effect of:  "Farms will no longer be locked into growing a specific crop to earn benefits and will have flexibility to plant any crop they wish."  I'm still wondering about the WTO classification on the draft.

[Updated to add "Years ago", as when Pat Roberts, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, was pushing Freedom to Farm as chair of House Ag.]

Meta Study of Organic Farms

The LA times reports on a study in Nature which looked at studies of organic agriculture, finding an average 20 percent difference in productivity.  The impact varies by crop, with annuals more affected than perennials and fruits.  

One commenter spins:
In fact, in cases in which growers used techniques that are considered to be the best practices for organic farming, the gap between organic and conventional yields narrowed to 13%.
"If you do things as well as you can, then the yield difference is very small," Cavigelli said.
There's no indication of whether the non-organic farms were using their "best practices", but my cynical self suspects they weren't.  There's also no indication of whether the comparison was crop to crop, or acre to acre (the latter meaning the total productivity of an acre over several years).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When Old Men Frown on Young Men Carousing

Sen. McCain is to be honored for his service, but....  From what I've read of his life, he was a world-class carouser when a midshipman at Annapolis and well into middle age, excepting the years when he was in the Hanoi Hilton.  So I can only smile at his outrage over the recent Secret Service/military hooha.  The men involved showed bad judgment and poor morals, but it's a bit sanctimonious for Sen. McCain to cast a stone.  If consorting with a prostitute is cause to lose one's federal job, Sen. Vitter should be sent back to Louisiana.

Flash from the Committee: Pay Limit

Chris Clayton reports the Senate Ag committee plans to wrap up its version of the 2012 farm bill today.  He says:

The bill considered by the committee on Thursday also lowered the adjusted gross income eligibility to $750,000. Moreover, the bill makes major changes to language involving "actively engaged" to further restrict who is eligible for payments.
There will be a study to determine the feasibility of whether popcorn should be considered a commodity crop.
 Apparently they agreed to tweak the bill enough to satisfy the cotton/rice/peanut group.[Updated: according to Politico they did something for cotton, but not peanuts and rice, much to the disgust of  Chambliss and Cochran.]

Get Educated and Live Longer

Ran across a map of the country this morning, the URL for which I lost, but here's a close replacement, showing color-coded counties, representing their life expectancy.  The pattern is for the coasts to have the highest life expectancy, Appalachia, the Delta, and reservations to have the lowest.

The color coding meant that there was only one county in upstate New York which stood out as long-lived: Tompkins county.  Why?  That's where Ithaca is, the home of Ithaca College and Cornell University.  Education makes a difference.  Maybe the best way to cut healthcare expenditures is to improve our education system?

[Updated with the url from the Rural Blog which triggered this post. Interesting how color coding and different metrics affect one's perspective.]

Great Bureaucrats: Bob Mondloch

Bob Mondloch and I (and Les Fredrickson) worked together in the early 70's on the MAP (Management Analysis Project--think Business Process Reengineering 20 years before that buzzphrase came in existence). Bob was a good man, sharp, hardworking, good judgment, sense of humor.  He'd been detailed from whatever the conservation division was called in those days--must have been when Nixon and Earl Butz were trying to kill the Agricultural Conservation Program to MAP as its executive director. At that time he was either assistant to the director of the conservation division or deputy, but he may have become director right before he died. He died very young, or so it seems to me now, probably in his early 40's, I think of a heart attack, and probably before 1976. 

Bob was one of a group of youngish men who moved from the field to DC in the 60's to replace the generation which had run the agency since the New Deal days and WWII.  Some found other jobs as the Republicans downsized ASCS and the boom in commodity prices seemed to be making the agency obsolete.  Some stayed on and led the agency through the 70's and 80's.

Anyhow, I ran across a reference to Mondloch House and tracked down this page, which offers a side of Bob I never knew about, but which is no surprise at all.  A notice of the marriage of a son in 1991 says Bob's widow was chaplain at Mount Vernon Hospital.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Farm Bill Delayed

Trying to keep everyone happy is hard, and Sen. Stabenow didn't succeed with her draft farm bill.  Politico and others observe the peanut and rice people are upset, so consideration of the draft in committee was delayed. 

In Defense of Bricks and Mortar

I've often said giving farmers on-line access to FSA programs/operations is the wave of the future.  But now I need to recognize the other side.  Here's a post at Ezra Klein's Wonkblog on the virtues of opening storefronts to sell Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance. It will possibly take another generation before Americans are equal to the challenge of understanding online applications.  Maybe even longer.  (I'm sure it will come eventually.) Until then, there's a role for hand holding and in-person explanations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Senate Farm Bill and Farm Policy

Keith Good has a discussion, partly from Chris Clayton, of the provisions of the farm bill to be considered by Senate ag on Wednesday and the reactions of different farm groups.

I think I've reached the point where there have been so many changes in legal provisions over the years that I can't follow the draft very well.  For example, one thing which did strike me was the provision that the producer's decision would apply to all the cropland he or she controlled in the county.  That seems to be a break from the past in which an operator could have multiple farms in a county.   I don't know if that's right, and if it is, how much it will complicate the process of maintaining farm records.

The fact that program coverage is on planted acreage--don't know how that fits with WTO but since they did provisions for upland cotton to handle the dispute with Brazil I assume the writers are happy with it.

Does Al Gore Have the Last Laugh?

Turns out he's a member of the inaugural class of members of the Internet Hall of Fame.  I expect all Republicans who laughed at him to humbly apologize to the winner of the 2000 election (popular vote division).

Kevin Drum Goes Gentle on Financiers

In a post about why the financial community is opposed to Obama (a meme from Brad Delong), Kevin opines there are two reasons:
My guess is two things. First — and there's no point in pulling punches here — they're a bunch of spoiled brats.
 Read the whole thing.

Politico on Farm Bill Budget and Politics

Politico has a nice piece on the farm bill.
Within the commodity title itself, about $50.2 billion would be saved by repealing current subsidies, chiefly the cash payments. From these savings, $28.8 billion would be re-invested in a new revenue insurance program that would give farmers added protection against “shallow losses” —not covered now by traditional crop insurance.
The new approach is most popular in the Midwest Corn Belt, and Southern cotton and peanuts have been promised concessions in the process. But there is still Southern regional sympathy with rice growers, who are put at a decided disadvantage and who had been banking on some relief through a more traditional system of target prices and supports.
Because of its high capital costs, rice has relied most heavily of the direct cash subsidies and will lose as much as $3 billion from the proposed change in commodity payments. At the same time, rice has been reluctant to jump into crop insurance, since the crop is grown in flooded paddies not vulnerable to drought.

Of course the rice growers have big bucks to throw around.  (I'm reading David Corn's latest book with a reminder of an estate tax modification pushed by Sen. Lincoln which got included in the deal between Obama and the Reps after the 2010 election.  Wonder who was pushing it?)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Food Trouble in India

When I was young, my title would have meant famines or food shortages.  This year, it turns out, the food trouble is too much grain for India to transport and store.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Canada Tightening Border Security With US?

Apparently the answer is "yes".

Senate Farm Bill--Committee

Via a number of sources (Des Moines Register, DTN, Farm Policy) here's the Chairman's summary of the draft farm bill which will be considered next week in committee.

I found this interesting:
6 (a) STREAMLINING.—In implementing this title, the
7 Secretary shall, to the maximum extent practicable—
8 (1) seek to reduce administrative burdens and
9 costs to producers by streamlining and reducing pa-
perwork, forms, and other administrative require-
12 (2) improve coordination, information sharing,
13 and administrative work with the Risk Management
14 Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation
15 Service; and
16 (3) take advantage of new technologies to en-
hance efficiency and effectiveness of program deliv-
ery to producers.
19 (b) IMPLEMENTATION.—The Secretary shall make
20 available to the Farm Service Agency to carry out this
21 title $100,000,000.

Of course, the Appropriations committee would have to give the money.

Texas Values: Football

From a Post article on the new quarterback who's going to take the team to the Super Bowl, Robert Griffin III:
" There’s just one high school, and football is king. Case in point: the team’s weight room is 10,000-square feet, at least three times the size of the Redskins’ in Northern Virginia."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sentence of the Day: Friedersdorf

Writing at the Atlantic, Conan Friedersdorf does a good sentence:
"There is a glaring problem with that characterization: using sex and silly Web based games to get the attention of male Internet users isn't unorthodox at all. It's pretty much the default method!
 (The context is some on the right attacking an NIH funded effort to reach homosexual men with health information.)

Most Valuable Possession in 1775? Beds

The Boston 1775 blog quotes a letter from Paul Revere to his wife in besieged Boston:
"I receivd your favor [letter] yesterday. I am glad you have got yourself ready [to leave Boston and join him]. If you find that you cannot easily get a pass for the Boat, I would have you get a pass for yourself and children and effects. Send the most valuable first. I mean that you should send Beds enough for yourself and Children, my chest, your trunk, with Books Cloaths &c to the ferry tell the ferryman they are mine."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Aerial Photography/Satellites: Commercial and Government

I posted the other day about NRCS using aerial observation to check compliance with sod/swampbuster provisions.

There was a NY Times article today about conflict between the military and the National Reconnaissance Office.  It seems commercial satellites today are almost as good as the governments, particularly for the sort of imagery the military needs, and they're a lot cheaper.  So the issue is where to spend scarce dollars: on commercial contracts or developing the government's.

Along the same lines, I wonder if NRCS has looked at using Google Earth for a first crack at spotchecking practices.  Granted their imagery isn't updated often, certainly wouldn't be timely for FSA purposes, but it might work for some NRCS purposes.  Matter of fact, if the district conservationist "flew" the county through Google Earth once a year, couldn't she/he learn something?

Down the line, maybe APFO should tap into the commercial satellite facilities?

[Updated: added title]

Jury Duty Coming Up

From the juror instructions for Federal District Court:
What should I bring with me? What should I leave at home?
You should bring your juror identification badge, which appears in the middle of the left side of your summons, each day you report to the courthouse. The bar code is used to check you in at the jury office.[Barcoding jurors seems good--when I did jury duty in DC in 1970 or so we didn't have any badges.]
You must present a photo ID, such as a driver's license, when entering the courthouse. You and your belongings are subject to search. Please allow plenty of time to pass through security. It is very important that you arrive on time; if you are late, the entire case will be delayed. [Does this imply we're assigned to a case before we arrive? That's new to me but I see how it can work.]
Before they are assigned to a particular case, jurors often have to wait while important pretrial activities take place. [But this suggests we aren't assigned to a case??] You may want to bring reading material for those periods of time. You may also want to bring a sweater or jacket; the courtrooms are often quite cool.
For security reasons, you will not be allowed to enter the courthouse with cellular telephones, Palm Pilots, Blackberry e-mail devices, pagers, cameras, tape recorders, laptop computers or any other electronic device. [I wonder what happens to people's cell phones? Can they check them?  Pity the poor early adopters (and the mainstream these days) who use Kindle or IPad's for their reading.]
Potential weapons such as firearms, knives, pocket knives, scissors, letter openers, screw drivers, mace and pepper spray are also prohibited.
 This probably means little blogging next week, at least on days I have to go in.  Unfortunately getting to Alexandria from Reston is not easy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Past Disasters

The roughly 3,000 people killed on 9/11 stand as a record.  But when you rank disasters in terms of the percent of total population killed it recedes.  For one, there's the 1,600 killed in a steamboat explosion (the Sultana carrying former prisoners of the Confederacy north).  Given US population then it would be more than 4 times worse than 9/11.

Helen Keller in China

My impression is that Helen Keller no longer plays the big role in our culture she used to.  But according to James Fallows, she's a big figure in China, being taught in the third grade.

Government: Cycles of Reform and Relapse

The uproar over GSA's conference in Las Vegas reminds me that FSA had some problem in the 1990's. My memory is dim, but for a while meetings/conferences requiring travel required much more documentation and approval at a higher level than before.  I suspect after years went by such requirements gradually eased, at least until the next scandal.  Such is the way of government.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Great Bureaucrats: Willie Cooper

The USDA blog has a post on the career of Lousiana SED Willie Cooper,  who celebrated 40 years on the job yesterday.  That's 40 years as state executive director, a job which is usually a political appointment, and 55 years as an FSA employee.

To be blunt, the fact that Willie survived both Republican and Democratic administrations is a measure of how capable he is, not that the blog could say so, but I can.

Are Teens More Moral, or Just More Knowledgable?

Report on Ezra Klein that the teen birthrate continues to drop.  Not sure whether our teens are more moral, indulging in less vaginal sex and more oral sex, or using contraceptives more.  Or is there a national crisis because of a loss of testosterone?

Dueling Aerial Compliance: NRCS and FSA

ASCS/FSA has long used aerial photography to validate acreage reports.  It was a big deal in the 70's when we moved to aerial compliance using 35mm slides matched against the base photography.  Samuel T. Brown, Jr. and his shop got an award because they saved so much energy

Now it seems NRCS is into aerial compliance(for conservation compliance reviews):
Instead of staff taking photographs [as they did in last year's pilot], this year NRCS will contract to use special planes equipped with GPS-synched, high-resolution cameras attached to the belly of the craft.
“We feel this will be much more efficient,” said Adkins. “We went through several teams of volunteers to complete last year’s pilot project. All the banking and tight turning required to get good photographs took a lot of time.”
I wonder if there's been any coordination among the agencies.  Faint hope. (Though I suspect the parameters for NRCS are enough different than FSA to make coordination hard. I am a little concerned about the idea of notifying landowners of the flights--does that set a precedent for FSA, or is what I would guess to be a big different in altitude enough of a distinguishing feature?)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life Mysteries: Procrastination

Why do we wait until almost the last moment to pay taxes.

Homogenous Countries: Not

Robert Samuelson repeats a mistake in yesterday's Post column, on measuring happiness in countries:
On the most comprehensive list, the United States ranks 11th out of 156 countries. Here are the top 10 and their populations: Denmark, 5.6 million; Finland, 5.4 million; Norway, 5 million; Netherlands, 16.7 million; Canada, 34.8 million; Switzerland, 7.9 million; Sweden, 9.5 million; New Zealand, 4.4 million; Australia, 22.9 million; and Ireland, 4.6 million.
All these countries share one common characteristic: They’re small in population and, except Canada and Australia, land mass. Small countries enjoy an advantage in the happiness derby. They’re more likely to have homogeneous populations with fewer ethnic, religious and geographic conflicts.
The fact is that at least six of the ten "homogenous" countries have multiple official languages according to the CIA world factbook  (Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand,  Ireland, Finland and Switzerland).

The mistake, which I think is common, is a reminder it's easier to think you are complex while others are simpl.

Monday, April 16, 2012

USDA Should Go on Telework?

USDA offices were closed because of a small fire and the resulting cutoff of power, says this Government Executive piece.  I wonder what sort of fallback plans they had in place?  Any?  Or just take leave?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

War Averted?

Apparently so, according to this post. 
See after the jump.

Implementing Payment Limitation on Crop Insurance

I blogged about the GAO report on the impact of instituting a payment limitation on crop insurance. If adopted, FSA should send flowers to Sen. Coburn because I can't see any way for RMA/crop insurance companies to implement the limitation without FSA.

I'm not sure how it would work in practice--FSA has some experience with this sort of thing--I'm thinking of trying to apply payment eligibility and limitation rules on members of cotton and rice co-ops.  I suspect there'd be the same sort of problems with crop insurance.

Guerrilla Gardening and Life

The Post has an article on the new popularity of "guerrilla gardening", including throwing bombs:
They rush toward a drab vacant lot in Shaw. Some climb up onto the back of a truck to get better aim at their target. But these bombers aren’t likely to appear on any terrorist list or even get arrested. They’re throwing “seed bombs,” golf-ball-size lumps of mud packed with wildflower seeds, clay and a little bit of compost and water, which they just learned to make at a free seed-bombing workshop for Washington’s guerrilla gardeners.
 It goes on:
The bombs will — in theory — bloom into bachelor’s buttons and baby’s breath, forget-me-nots and marigolds when the truffle-size balls hit, then expand. It also helps if there’s a healthy spring rain, said Scott Aker, head of horticulture for the U.S. National Arboretum. If the bombs are launched into a sunny space where there’s not too much other vegetation present, then he gives the seeds a 70 percent chance of blooming. “But either way, it sounds like great fun,” Aker says. “On your commute, you can toss one out the window.”
I hate to be a party-pooper (I lie, actually; I love to poop on other people's ideas) but Mr. Aker has carefully chosen his qualifiers.  The likelihood of finding a bare sunny spot which gets rain is pretty damn small due a to 5-letter word: weeds. Weeds survive by colonizing any such spots.  And usually flowers which humans have cultivated over the centuries don't have the oomph to out-compete the weeds, as real gardeners know to their cost (of sweat and toil). 

But it's a fun idea, and in some ways a metaphor for life: we go through life tossing seed bombs, most of which fail to thrive but occasionally one will produce a short-lived bloom.

Friday, April 13, 2012

McWilliams on Animals and Local Food

James McWilliams has an op-ed in the Times on the myth of sustainable meat.
"But rotational grazing works better in theory than in practice. Consider Joel Salatin, the guru of nutrient cycling, who employs chickens to enrich his cows’ grazing lands with nutrients. His plan appears to be impressively eco-correct, until we learn that he feeds his chickens with tens of thousands of pounds a year of imported corn and soy feed. This common practice is an economic necessity. Still, if a farmer isn’t growing his own feed, the nutrients going into the soil have been purloined from another, most likely industrial, farm, thereby undermining the benefits of nutrient cycling."
 He's against locavores, but also against meat.

You're Getting Old When...

The star of  a movie  is playing a role in which she fears she has Alzheimer's and you remember when her mother left her husband to begin the affair with her father which resulted in her birth.

It was a great scandal then, wouldn't be one now.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Payment Limitation on Crop Insurance?

NY Times reports Sen. Coburn asked GAO to study the possible impact of payment limitations on crop insurance.  The report was released today and is here.  The first two paragraphs from the summary:

If a limit of $40,000 had been applied to individual farmers’ crop insurance premium subsidies, as it is for other farm programs, the federal government would have saved up to $1 billion in crop insurance program costs in 2011, according to GAO’s analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. GAO selected $40,000 as an example of a potential subsidy limit because it is the limit for direct payments, which provide fixed annual payments to farmers based on a farm’s crop production history. Had such a limit been applied in 2011, it would have affected up to 3.9 percent of all participating farmers, who accounted for about one-third of all premium subsidies and were primarily associated with large farms. For example, one of these farmers insured crops in eight counties and received about $1.3 million in premium subsidies. Had premium subsidies been reduced by 10 percentage points for all farmers participating in the program, as recent studies have proposed, the federal government would have saved about $1.2 billion in 2011. A decision to limit or reduce premium subsidies raises other considerations, such as the potential effect on the financial condition of large farms and on program participation.

Since 2001, USDA has used data mining tools to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse by either farmers or insurance agents and adjusters but has not maximized the use of these tools to realize potential additional savings. This is largely because of competing compliance review priorities, according to GAO’s analysis. USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), which is responsible for overseeing the integrity of the crop insurance program, has used data mining to identify farmers who received claim payments that are higher or more frequent than others in the same area. USDA informs these farmers that at least one of their fields will be inspected during the coming growing season. RMA officials told GAO that this action has substantially reduced total claims. The value of identifying these farmers may be reduced, however, by the fact that USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA)—which conducts field inspections for RMA—does not complete all such inspections, and neither FSA nor RMA has a process to ensure that the results of all inspections are accurately reported. For example, RMA did not obtain field inspection results for about 20 percent and 28 percent of these farmers, respectively, in 2009 and 2010. As a result, not all of the farmers RMA identified were subject to a review, increasing the likelihood that fraud, waste, or abuse occurred without detection. Field inspections were not completed, in part because FSA state offices are not required to monitor the completion of such inspections. In addition, RMA generally does not provide insurance companies with FSA inspection results when crops are found to be in good condition, although USDA’s Inspector General has reported this information may be important for followup. Past cases have revealed that some farmers may harvest a high-yielding crop, hide its sale, and report a loss to receive an insurance payment. Furthermore, RMA has not directed insurance companies to review the results of all completed FSA field inspections before paying claims that are filed after inspections show a crop is in good condition. As a result, insurance companies may not have information that could help them identify claims that should be denied.

Hacked: Apology and Information

This is the text of an email message I'm sending out which I thought I'd also post here:

Yesterday morning you may have received an email from “bharshaw at” with no subject which contained a url, probably ending in “” where the “xxx” is a file type, usually an image one but not always. There was also a post on my facelessbureaucrat blog. I’m still not sure what happened but it appears my hotmail and possibly google passwords were hacked and someone used my email account to spam you. As far as I know now the url did not contain a virus (my wife got one, which she opened, but full scans of my PC using McAfee didn’t reveal any virus. But since I’m no expert:
  1. if you did click on the url and open it, please be sure your security software is running and up-to-date. Let me know if you have any problems.
  2. if you didn’t click on it, delete the message and congratulate yourself on following the prime rule for email safety: never open an unexpected url or attachment. Check first.
I’m now changing my passwords, following the experience of James Fallows after his wife’s account was hacked (see his –but don’t click on that—go to the Atlantic website and search for “Fallows password” to see the sequence of posts he put up. Long story short, he went to Lastpass, which is a  free password manager and permits you to have strong passwords for individual accounts.
My apologies for endangering your security.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kickstarter and Walt Jeffries II

I got around to looking at Kickstarter and Walt Jeffries' project, though I was careful not to lose myself in all the opportunities to give money, so I still can't give an informed opinion on the Kickstarter concept.

 I've no idea why people interested in local food production would be coming to this blog since I'm usually, not always but usually, skeptical of locavore/food movement things.  I do recommend Walt's blog, just for an example of thought and craftsmanship. I'm particularly struck by his violation of one of my favorite rules: you never do things right the first time.  But Walt's done several things which amaze me, the butcher shop being just the latest. 

Maybe I Won't Vote for Obama

First his White House doesn't know English, then I see this (one of a series of photos in one of the posts at Obamafoodorama on the Easter egg roll):
Always had problems doing pushups.

"The Principal Is Your Pal"

Has no one ever heard of that? Does no one have an English teacher named Ms Murgatroyd who harped on the differences between "principal" and "principle", between "capitol" and "capital", between "its" and "it's"?

Apparently the answer in Obama's White House is "no", as witness this post from a deputy press secretary: "White House Report – The Buffett Rule: A Basic Principal of Tax Fairness"

I do wish the world weren't going to hell in a handbasket. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

A (Corn) Straw in the Wind

Des Moines Register reports China bought 50,000 tons of corn from Ukraine.  With corn prices high, we're going to bring a lot of land into the production picture; all it takes is the right land, the right climate, the right knowledge and the right infrastructure.  Over time the result will be a glut of corn on the market and depressed prices.  That's my geezer talking.

Reston and Tall Buildings

Matt Yglesias dislikes DC's low buildings--says true urban advantages come from high density and tall buildings.  Along those lines, the father of Reston is interviewed here and says:
"Tall buildings are good because they preserve open space. If you take a tall building and take it all down to two, three or four stories, you use up all the grass and use up all the open space. So if you have a tall building, you are helping the community."
 The original plans for Reston had more townhouses and fewer single-family houses, but that mix didn't sell well in the 1960's and 1970's.  Times have changed.  The Post had an article today on the redevelopment near Mount Vernon square, which is the location of the original main DC library.  Apparently there's now good demand for downtown apartments from people like Mr. Yglesias.

The Green Jacket Wearer Says: Open the Doors

Via John Sides at the Monkey Cage, from a post reporting on interviews/surveys of golfers:

Does it bother you that the club's membership excludes women?
The players say... No: 90%
"Nothing about the club's policies bothers me."
"It's their club. They can do as they like."
"You're asking the wrong people this question."
Yes: 10%
"Yeah, I care, and you can quote me on it." —Bubba Watson

Sunday, April 08, 2012

In Defense of Conferences

The lead sentence of a Matt Yglesias post:
"I was at a Kaufmann Foundation conference of economics writers late last week, and as usual at a good event like this I feel I learned a ton of stuff in informal conversations with people there and sharpened my own thinking on tons of points." [my emphasis]
 I think that's true and it's one reason why teleconferencing and similar alternatives to in-person meetings can only go so far. When dealing with people in the flesh, particularly people you've never met or don't usually deal with, you learn a lot.  That logic is why, according to Walter Isaacson's bio, Steve Jobs was careful to design Apple's building to foster meetings.  And a similar process occurred in Bell Labs.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

I Don't Understand: FSA Versus NRCS

I was solemnly assured by a number of people (all ASCS/FSA employees) that the SCS/NRCS conservationists spent all their time riding around in their pickup trucks and never could be found in the office.   And ASCS employees never lie.  So what's with this Federal Computer Week article on the NRCS "streamlining plan" which reports:
Currently, the USDA field conservationists report spending as little as 20 to 40 percent of their time in the field working with customers
The expected outcome of the initiative is for field staff to be able to spend up to 75 percent of their time in the field with customers, the plan said.
The initiative will free up the equivalent of an additional 1,200 to 1,500 field technical staff that will be redirected back into customer contact, the USDA said in its plan.
  Here's the plan which is only 5 months old (only the latest news on this blog). It's actually part of the USDA plan.  Funny, though, it sounds basically like the vision which Kevin Wickey and other NRCS people were trying to implement back in the Glickman days.  Which as I understood it, was putting everything on a laptop which a conservationist would need in the field.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Urban Greenhouses

The NYTimes reports on plans for 100,000 square foot greenhouse on the roof of a former Navy warehouse in Brooklyn.  Here the plan is for hydroponics.  Unlike vertical farming, these things make some sense to me.  I say "some" because I've got reservations: in this case I'd assume the economics are based on both a successful hydroponic farm and use of the warehouse.  Presumably if one or the other runs into trouble, the whole enterprise becomes a bit dubious. And a dual-function site requires two sets of expertise so perhaps two sets of  management and labor, which means it's more complicated than just a site dedicated to one function. But if the people can make it work, it's better use of the area and the resources, as well as reducing the need for transportation of the crops.

See this treehugger piece on a similar project

Your USDA at Work, Promoting Aussie Happiness

Beer paddles in Australia, via James Fallows and, according to him, sponsored by the USDA:

Hot News--No Marketing Quota

Ironically, given the prominence of Wickard v. Filburn  in the arguments over the constitutionality of the PPACA (healthcare), USDA just announced there will be no marketing quotas for 2013 crop wheat.  (Because the 2008 farm bill only covered through 2012, the 1938 AAA comes back into effect for 2013 wheat.  If the Secretary thought quotas were needed to balance production and demand, he would have announced they were in effect and called for a referendum of wheat producers to vote on whether the quotas would be implemented.  If the producers approved quotas, then we would be back in the situation which created Wickard v Filburn.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Pink Slime Defended

Via Tyler Cowen, here's a defense of "pink slime", also quoting a NYTimes blogger. The short version is that it's been used in ground beef since beef prices soared in the '70's (our going off gold, jump in grain prices as USSR started buying, etc.), has been safe since Jack in the Box went out of business in the 90's, and makes hamburger lower in fat..

The defense makes sense, but it assumes consumers really want to understand how food gets on their table. In my cynical view today, they don't, because if they did they'd face much higher food bills.. The food movement will be able to whack a few moles, artisanal food producers will be able to find some niches, but the vast majority of the food that goes on our tables will be produced by "industrial agriculture". 

GPRA: Measuring Performance

Some 20 or so years after the GPRA was passed, we'll still trying to figure out how to measure performance.  The latest buzzword is "cascading".

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

More Young People Running Small Farms?

One of the fault lines in the green/food movement is shown here.  Ideally they'd like to see more young farmers and small farmers.  They'd also like conservation. But, as quoted from Farm Policy:
“He [Sen. Baucus MT] says there needs to be a balance in the conservation reserve program lands saying, ‘CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] tends to have an adverse effect on some of the smaller towns, on implement dealers for example. Sometimes farmers just go south and have land in CRP and take the income. We’re actually starting to reduce CRP in a way to help younger people get in to agriculture.’”
That's been there since the beginning, or at least the 1930's.  If you take land out of agricultural production, whether for conservation purposes because it's below-average land and subject to erosion, etc., or because you want to reduce production in order to increase prices, you can endanger the people who depend on farmers to make a living and by increasing the value of the remaining farm land you make it harder for people to begin farming.

The old saw goes: there's no such thing as a free lunch, meaning there's always tradeoffs.

Why We Had the Agricultural Adjustment Administration

Via Matt Yglesias, this map at Slate shows how how population changed at the county level during the Depression.  Counties in the wheat area/Great Plains suffered a loss of more than 10 percent during the 10 years, in some cases more than 25 percent. That's not just the children growing up and moving away, that's families moving (i.e., Steinbeck's Joads and the other Okies.).

The distress behind those population changes is why the New Deal passed a bunch of laws relating to agriculture and rural life.

A note: as I blogged yesterday the 1940 census records included a question on where you lived in 1935, so it should be possible to construct a map showing migration during 1930-35, and 1935-40.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Having Fun with Farmers and Ranchers

Chris Clayton enjoys poking fun at the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance for bragging on their PR successes at the same time a producer of lean finely textured beef (the "pink slime") is going into bankruptcy.

1940 Census Records and the Return from Farming

I was lucky that chose NY as one of the first states for which to process 1940 census images, so I was able to see the entries for my family (not me, I just missed it so I'll have to wait another 10 years to see myself recorded).  I had a couple of surprises:
  • first, the census for the first and only time asked where people had lived in 1935. Now I had assumed that my neighborhood was stable and unchanging, but it turned out about half the people on the page with my family had moved in the last 5 years.  
  • second, my father listed his income as $0.  (Yes, the census bureau was asking about family income back then--our forebears weren't as touchy about releasing personal data as we seem to be today.  Or maybe they had more respect for authority and the establishment.)  Dad was one of the early farmers who participated in a cost-accounting study from Cornell extension.  Not that he was a great record keeper; I'm sure I inherited my disorderly gene from him.  But yearly I think it was he would put on a push to update his cost accounts on the forms Cornell provided him.  I don't remember whether the Extension professor picked them up in person, or dad mailed them off. So I suspect dad's report of $0 was based on his cost accounts, which would have subtracted from his gross income the interest earned on the capital invested.   That used to be a sore point with my mother, who got very fierce about underpaid farmers, often claiming farmers would be better off selling out and investing the returns for a safe return.  The bottom line was the family had a small positive cash flow, but we weren't doing well.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Maple Syrup and Commercial Production

We had a big maple shading our yard, which once I tapped and made a little bit of maple syrup from the sap.  Only once, because I didn't and don't have the patience needed to boil down the sap.  But my memories of that long-ago episode meant  I found this post at Casaubon's Book on the plight of New York syrup makers interesting.  The unusually warm weather meant production is way down. And most interesting was the idea of a vacuum system, which commercial producers now use to extract sap.  $10,000 for such a system won't sound like much to commercial grain producers in the Midwest, but it's a step up for people who didn't use to need such capital.

Kevin Drum Loves Factory Farming

That's a tongue-in-cheek part of his reaction to a report on what Americans spend their money on compared to other countries. Food is low on our list.

[Updated to correct grammar]

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Pink Slime Meets Green Slime

I've said a couple times that calling the thing "pink slime" is the most effective framing of an issue since the Republicans came up with the "death tax".  I'm amused by this Grist piece, which suggests that "pink slime" may contribute to the good taste of hamburgers and recounts the efforts of an organic beef producer to come up with an organic equivalent, which he calls "green slime".   His efforts, though, cause me to rethink my position: I now think "pink slime" is a much more effective framing than is the death tax.

Successful Illinois Grain Farms

Illinois extension has studied factors leading to success in Illinois grain farms.  Here's the bottomline:
In summary, this series on farm performance has shown that grain farms which achieve higher yields and receive higher prices earn greater returns consistently over time and within any given crop year when examining the 2005 to 2009 period. On the cost side, farms earning higher returns also have lower costs of production, and there is a wider gap in power costs between the top and bottom performance groups compared to direct input costs. In terms of farm size and tenure position, larger operations with more total acres and fewer acres rented under fixed cash rent agreements are characteristics of the higher return groups.[my emphasis]
 It goes on to say that most of the success is the ability to achieve higher yields; good marketing doesn't account for much of the differences among farms. Once again, IMHO farmers are price takers, not price makers.