Sustainable Farming

First some background. In the past I have done the following:

  • Bought a grass fed cow and had it butchered.
  • Belonged to a food coop.
  • Belonged to a CSA.
  • Bought organic foods.
  • Shopped at a local farmers market (will continue to do so).
  • Bought farm eggs (will continue to do so).

So I could be mistaken for a “sustainable farming” aficionado.  However this would be wrong.  I did these things for taste and quality.  I don’t make any claims besides my personal taste preference (and scrambled farm eggs are nice and meaty tasting) about these types/styles of food, nor would I ever require the government to force people to do these things.  You pay a lot more (except butchering a cow).

With that in mind I’d like to write about the “sustainable farming” fraud.  Check out this picture:

Note the dark green patch. That is wheat that has been fertilized with ammonia during planting.  The tan on the hills and the yellow road side grass should be considered “sustainable”.  These grasses are clearly nitrogen limited.  Can you imagine the loss in yield if the wheat looked like that?

Now some say you can add nitrogen with legumes.  You can, assuming you plow the crop back into the field.  So you would have to plant clover, then plow it in at the end of the season.  This will add nitrogen, but you cut productivity in half.

One way you could do it would be to graze cattle on a clover and alfalfa pasture.  This would allow you to “harvest” nitrogen annually.  On the downside you’d have to be very careful about bloat, so you could probably use a grass/legume mix.

Unfortunately besides meat production, you are screwed with grains and vegetables.  And then we get into potassium, phosphorous, and trace minerals.  You simple have to add those chemical some way to your field or you will deplete the soil.

Another trick I’ve seen is to run chickens on the pasture.  I’ve noticed that those chickens are given feed, and that is how you are adding minerals to your field (via chicken droppings).

Another trick I see is the “sustainable” farmer capturing a niche market.  Usually they will slaughter free range chickens (with cheap Mexican labor), and possibly pigs.  For a small niche market it is definitely a business idea that works, but it won’t feed a country.

Bottom line if you harvest you will deplete the soil.  The only exception would be nitrogen harvesting using a legume/grass mix and cattle, however you still lose the other constituents and have to add it back some way.

Again I like the products and buy them from time-to-time, but there is no way you can feed 350 million people doing these things.


We the Living

What does it mean to be a creator and a producer; to worship Life?  If you are reading this blog, then you are one of us.  I’ll give some examples:

I have been working in Industrial Construction in the process industries (refining, midstream, oil production) for quite some time.  Due to my position on most jobs I’m one of the last to leave after the project is started up by the Operations department.  It is a sharp contrast.  One week it is like a kicked over ant pile with men scrambling around working to meet the deadline, and a week later you are by yourself on the site, walking around looking at what you created and hearing it come to life.  During times like that you get an unusual feeling which I could not explain nor even describe.  It’s akin to sadness, but it is not sad.

So one day I was talking to my buddy who has forgotten more about projects than I’ll ever know, and still knows more than me, and he started smiling.  And he said, “James, when you build something, you leave a little of yourself with it, and that’s what you’ve been feeling.”.  And he nailed it.

Another example, my son worked in the oil fields for summer work.  We were going to head back home after summer, and he wanted to show me one of the projects he had help build (you can see the other one on the cover of my book.)  So we drove to the site, and no one was there, and he took me on a tour.  I could tell he had the feeling, so I told him about it.  He then took me in an equipment shack and showed me were he had written his initials either on a pipe or I-beam.

What I am talking about is the Virtue of Magnanimity, a CATHOLIC virtue.  You, especially men, should pray to be given graces to grow in the habit of this forgotten virtue.  It is the belief in doing great things, and doing them.  Yes this is a virtue of the Catholic Church.  Research it sometime.  I recommend that you read Josef Pieper, especially On Hope.

I’ll leave you with some Pieper:

The original desire for the good takes its energy from the ever-pulsating momentum of that Origin in which man, answering the creative call of God, flew across the abyss which parts nothingness from existence.  It is the moment with which the possible bursts with a roar into the radiant dawn of its first bright realization: the swift current of a stream that originating in the  darkness of mere Nature and steadily fed by its source, crosses by the dictates of innate conscience into the realm of freedom.

On Selling Half

About 20 years ago I discovered that my maintenance foreman was going to retire in a year.  He had a fixed pension and social security, but he also had about $500,000 in a 401(k) or IRA.  While talking to him I found out he was 100% invested in company stock.  I told him he needed to sell since he could not afford the risk.  He kept saying, “James, I don’t want to miss out.  This stock is doing a lot better than the markets.”.  Finally I hit on something.  I told him to sell half.  If something bad happened, he wouldn’t be wiped out, and if the stock continued to be a high flyer, he wouldn’t kick himself for selling out.  He did it, and sure enough a few months before retirement the stock crashed.  He still got to buy his dream retirement home and I think he would have named his first grandbaby after me.  He was very thankful.

I’ve been looking at the economy and I’m not liking what I’m seeing.  First the Fed has been tightening.  Don’t fight the Fed, I really don’t need to write anything else.  Sure enough, quarterly GDP just printed 0.7% growth, which is anemic.  Car sales have rolled over and farm land prices are down.  People hopeful that oil would hit $60 are now praying it holds $50,  and the yield curve is flattening.  The economy is looking recessionary.

I don’t give investment advise, but I’ll tell you what I would do.  Sell half.  I’ve given that advise in the past, and been wrong.  But guess what?  The remaining half participated in the stock market mania and still made you money while the other half suffered no loss.  If I was up at night worrying about my investments, I’d sell half.  Move it to safe money.

In a 401(k) or IRA, that would be FDIC insured money markets.  If you want a little more return, then use short term Federal government bond funds; and make sure that excludes FNMA and any other housing entity.  For the half you leave invested in stocks, I’d move some of that to Fed long bonds in the hope that bond prices are heading higher (lower interest on the long end).

For money outside of retirement, I’d use Treasury Direct and be looking at 26 week T Bills.  No commission and safer than a bank.  The interest rate is around 1% right now, which is better than a CD.

Now if you want to speculate, as in, you can lose every penny, then start dusting off Elliot Wave theory.  I was short during the 2008 and 2009 blood bath and made a pile.  I have to tell you that Elliot Wave tracked excellently and I was actively trading triple short ETFs.  It worked great.  And that is how you would speculate.  Once you recognize the Wave 1 sell off, you do the counts and use short ETFs.  I actually covered my shorts at around S&P 750.

Elliot Wave appears to suck during a bull market.  I speculate that Wave Theory captures emotional investing, which means a Bear Market.  It kind of works for Bull Markets, but it’s not good enough to trade with.  I believe this is because the Bull Markets are driven by the 13 members of the Distributist Federal Reserve Banking Soviet so emotions are not as important.   You might be following a perfect A-B-C correction only to have it short circuit on B and miss out on a rally initiated by Fed action.  Note you have to watch out for Fed Acton during the Bear Market also, but you usually have time to trade the Bear.  In a Bull Market you are better off buying a low cost broad market index fund/ETF like the Vanguard S&P fund.

So at a minimum, at this time I’d sell half and move it to safety.