Minnesota Farmer


Holding my nose is not enough
September 22, 2016, 8:43 pm
Filed under: Politicians, Politics, Vote | Tags:

In all of my 63 years I do not remember a presidential election like this.  I have in the past held my nose and voted for the least objectionable candidate, but I cannot this year.

Our presidential elections have moved steadily to mud slinging and over the top statements.  I think we are at the point where you cannot trust either major political party.  Yes, there are good points to both candidates, and to both political parties, but I shudder to think of either in office.  Both presidential candidates were elected by majorities of their party, but neither party is our country.  In poll after poll neither party can claim a majority of voters supporting them, and this may be the year in which it will be hard to find a majority of either Democrats or Republicans who really want to see their own candidate in office.  Me, I’m voting none of the above.

Oh yes, I will vote in the presidential election this year, but I will not vote for either of the major parties.  There are many who claim I am wasting my vote, but that is a fallacy put forth by the major parties to contain potential third party ascendence.  With the  current party problems, it’s time we have some new leadership from someone other than the main line parties.  It’s happened before, why not again?

Neither of our current political parties can claim they were there at the founding of our country.  Thomas Jefferson in 1804 was a Democratic-Republican.  The Whig party that provided several early presidents is no longer in existence.  It wasn’t until 1829 that Andrew Jackson was elected as a Democrat and in 1860 that Lincoln was elected as a Republican that we developed our current two party system.  (The Republican party had not even existed until a few years before Lincoln’s election.)  Even then parties with names like “Know-Nothing” and “Bull Moose” continued to capture the countries imagination.  Have these two feuding parties been around too long?

Many other countries have working elections with multi-party slates.  Usually one or two will dominate, but as time goes on they can and do shift who is in power.  It is not any more or less messy than what we have today in the U.S.  It may just take a wholesale abandonment of the major parties to wake up our politicians.  It seems that most politicians are more out for their own advancement than to help out the country.

So, yes, this year I am voting for a “third’ party candidate, at least it is not someone I have to hold my nose to vote for.



Water issues

I spent this last Wednesday at FarmFest near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.  As always, there were lots of displays and things for sale, but I always take time for some of the forums on current issues.  IMG_0674The 1:15 session was titled “Buffers, WOTUS* and other Water Quality Issues.”  Now when you get farmers talking water, you get all kinds of concern.  We are always talking about how little or how much water we have.  Water is life for both our crops and our livestock.  Water is a big deal on the farm.  Now if you add in government control of our water, you are likely to get fireworks. (*Waters of the United States, it refers to a bill that could increase government control of water way beyond what is reasonable.)

The forum brought together nine speakers from various backgrounds, mainly commodity and farm group leaders, plus the local legislator (who wrote the “Buffer” bill) and an assistant to the state secretary of Agriculture.  So here are a few nuggets of wisdom and some comments on water issues from the forum.

“We all want water quality, we just want someone else to pay for it.”  Now isn’t that the truth.  But who should pay for it.  Well it boils down to blaming the least vocal, least politically connected voices, lately that seems to be farmers.

“Currently in Minnesota about 80% of the waters that need a buffer already have one.”  That was a revelation.  When the governor started pushing for buffers along all the waters in Minnesota you would have thought we had a real problem, but most of the job is already done.  But the next one really did open my eyes.

“In many cases, waters that do not have a buffer, need something other than a buffer to protect water quality.”  Now isn’t that interesting.  So again we have politicians pushing for something that is only needed in a small number of cases and they end up creating a big fuss when the job is almost already done.

“There are no waters in the state of Minnesota that are clean enough to drink risk free, and have most like never have been.”  Now I’ve been canoeing in the “pristine” waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and I know that even there  you deal with fish, mammal and bird poop in the water and the bacteria they have that can cause distress in humans.  That is a remote area, in areas more densely populated and warmer that density of potential problems increases.  Waters that contain fish, entertain birds and have swimming and wading mammals, amphibians and reptiles will always contain risks for disease transmission, this is not new.

Groups that regulate farmers seem to be seeking out ways that they can push for multi-million dollar fines for doing activities that are not even in their rules to control.  Normal farming activities that are up to date and environmentally friendly to most are being levied with suits to see if the regulation will stick.  If farmers cave in, it becomes law.  “They want to face individual farmers, not farm groups.  If we contact our farm group we can combat these illegal taking of farm activities.”  As a group we can face up to those who wish to push the law too far.  The courts have been on our side, but one farmer cannot afford all of the costs of lawyers, that is where your commodity or farm group can help.  Do not suffer alone.

Now the comments turn more hopeful.

“The changes in U.S. Agriculture since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have allowed agriculture to have a smaller environmental footprint.”  Farmers get all kinds of bad press when they get bigger and increase the density of their endeavors, but the truth is once we get bigger we get more concerned about controlling all of the possible elements on the farm.  Two issues from our own farm.

1) When we raised pigs outdoors, pens were not designed to control manure runoff.  It was spread on fields at anytime of year with no concern for whether it may end up in a stream or lake.  Now every bit of manure is controlled and used as the precious resource it is.

2) Newer machines have allowed us to control crop chemicals in ways we never could before.  Now we can control our crop chemicals down to the fraction of an ounce.  This means using only enough, never too much of that expensive crop input.

“Water quality is improving in Minnesota, but as more obvious point sources of pollution are eliminated (factories and city sewage systems) the search for the next point of pollution goes to more and more diffused sources.”  In other words, we have already done the large part of cleaning up our act, if anti-pollution groups are to keep their funding they must find more places to put the blame that may not amount to much in the overall picture.

“Farm groups are being asked ‘Are we sustainable.’  Well, yes we are.  We have over 40 years of work on being sustainable.  We are not yet done on improving on our sustainability.  We now produce more food on less acres and with fewer animals than 50 years ago.”   We have less waste and fewer inputs for more yield than at anytime in my life, that means we are doing something right.

At times when we talk water issues and government policy, it seems as if everything is hopeless.  There are too few of us and we are so small.  Still if we band together, our voice can still be heard.  The courts have been good to us, if we get a chance to make our case.  Alone we are helpless, together we can protect this precious way of life that provides food for so much of the world.

 



50 foot buffer

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Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton stirred up a bit of controversy when he proposed a 50 foot buffer strip on Minnesota rivers, lakes and drainage ditches.  If he wanted to get the discussion going on ways to protect our states waters, he definitely succeeded.  In fact the surprise and controversy started on the day of his announcement when DNR officials were blindsided by his intentions.

I attended the meeting on buffer strips held at the Worthington Fire Hall on Thursday.  The room was more than standing room only as attendees spilled out into the hallway.  One bystander counted over 150 standing in the room and could not count those in the hallways or seated.  Mostly it was farmers at the meeting, but a sprinkling of mayors, school officials and agricultural business employees were also there.  All came out in support of buffer strips and water quality, but did not agree that a one size fits all 50 foot buffer would solve the problem.

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There was also come confusion on what Dayton’s proposal would not include.  At first blush the proposal seems to be aimed at farm land which would amount to an uncompensated taking of land from farm families that live near these waters.  Pictures posted at the meeting by the governors office did cover only farm land so that intention seem to be supported.  One attendee questioned whether the DNR should not also be held to this standard and had pictures of local DNR land that would become out of compliance with a 50 foot buffer.  Also unstated was if this proposal would include land currently used as beach front gardens, play areas and lawns.

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Not every drainage ditch bank slopes down to the water for over 50 feet.  Most drainage ditches in rural areas have banks of soil along them that create a barrier to water running into the ditch.  This soil was placed there when the ditch was dug and is an effective barrier to water entering except in controlled areas.  Do these ditches also need a 50 foot buffer?

The controversy has not been helped by some news organizations making statements like “Big Ag. against clean water.”  Those at the Worthington meeting were not against clean water, they were against a blanket 50 foot buffer strip proposal.  Also, those at the meeting could not in any way be considered “Big Ag.” but they were farmers of all ages, farm types and farm sizes who own and live on the land that will be affected by this proposal.

Governor Dayton further muddied the waters by several times bringing up the recent notice by an area town to have it’s city residents use bottled water.  This problem was not at all related to buffers, but to a malfunction of equipment in the city’s water supply.

At the end of the meeting Dist. 22 Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, gave his response on the governor’s proposal saying that one of the take-aways from the discussion is that there isn’t one answer to the problem.

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“We have a variety of programs out there, and they really do work,” Weber said. “The reality of this proposal is it put everybody on defense right away.”

Yet, Weber said there is a willingness for stakeholders to gather, sit down and discuss it further. He encouraged Dayton to gather representatives from farm, drainage and conservation organizations to discuss what is available now and how something more could be implemented.

Weber also asked Dayton to “say these bills are dead for this year” and bring the groups to the table for discussion.

“I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the cooperation and willingness … in advancing the goal that you have,” Weber added.

So the process has started.  The discussion on the 50 foot buffer has now moved out of St. Paul and into the out state area.  From what I have heard the other meetings the Governor has set up were also well attended.  It shows a willingness to talk about the issue, but is also shows that the governor made the proposal without consulting his own department heads.  Perhaps if he had discussed this with them first there would not be so much controversy.

The proposal is still moving on in the state house and senate.  It is still likely that it will not even make it through one or more committees before the end of the session.  If it does move forward it will need much work, much more than has been shown so far.



And they wonder why
February 14, 2015, 1:41 pm
Filed under: history, Politics, trucks | Tags: , , ,

The U.S. Postal Service is changing its policies and raising its rates, they need more money to operate because no one uses the mail any more.  Well is there any wonder why?

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Have you used the U.S. Postal Service lately?  Have you actually looked at how long it takes something to arrive at your door?  Letters that I used to get in one day now take a week!  Something mailed from 4 miles away now must make a trip of over 300 miles just to get to my house.  Is this efficiency?  If the U.S. Postal Service goes down, it will be its own fault.

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The news says that the U.S.Postal Service is selling its old trucks.  They are not efficient enough in this time of fewer letters and packages to carry.  They need something new.  But they will still be the same old U.S. Postal Service.

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The U.S.Postal Service seems to working on a pony express model in the computer age.  The pony express was cutting edge at one time but they were eliminated by the telegraph.  Without some real  changes I see the U.S. Postal Service going the way of the pony express.  Cutting back will not bring new customers.  It’s time to innovate and a government agency is not good at innovation.

The U.S. Postal Service was once the envy of the world, now it is just an unchanging dinosaur.

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Who moved my green cheese

A month ago I wrote about my new solar voltaic system that was all ready to start producing electricity for me.  As of today, I have not produced a single watt.  Someone moved the goalposts and we have to wait.

January 1st some new regulations went into effect.  Although the collector was installed before the 1st of January, the electrical system was not hooked up to the grid.  Thus my system was subject to 2015 regulations.  Those regulations require a quick shut off between the collectors and the inverters.  Because the regulation is so new, and the number of solar collectors that are installed are so small, there have been no D/C quick shut off’s manufactured.  So now we wait.

This system needs a quick shut off before it can be turned on.

This system needs a quick shut off before it can be turned on.

Green power is subject to many regulations that are new to industry.  Any industry that is struggling to get going will have problems with technical issues unique to the industry.  Sometimes, in order to protect the consumer, regulations are placed by government agencies that cause problems for that startup industry.  At the moment I am caught in the middle of one of those regulation changes.

Green industry is fighting an uphill battle.  In order to become viable it needs a certain amount of acceptance by the public.  New industries are expensive to start, old industries are inexpensive to keep going.  When energy sources are expensive, green energy makes strides forward, when energy is cheap, green energy slides back.  Consumer acceptance of green energy is too often tied to the price of that energy.

For many years now energy costs have been high.  Energy sources like wind, solar, ethanol and others have been making inroads into the profit centers of established energy producers.  Regulatory changes have not been hard to overcome.  Now oil prices are going down.  When oil is cheap, all other forms of energy struggle to hang on.

I’ve seen this happen before.  In the 1980’s gas prices spiked up.  Green energy sources became popular.  Then gas prices went down and few talked about ethanol, solar or wind energy.  Since 2003 energy prices have been going up, and we have ethanol plants, and wind energy farms producing as they never did before.  Those alternative energy sources that were built before this recent energy spike are now set, with debts paid and a chance to continue producing energy despite lower energy prices.

If the world is going to wean itself from the climate changing effects of fossil fuels we are going to have to have the political will to continue to push alternative energy sources despite their higher cost.  Otherwise the fossil fuels industry will continue to win. Big_Oil-598x426



Cynic
November 3, 2014, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Politicians, Politics | Tags: , ,

When it comes to election time, I’m a confirmed cynic.  I have lived and watched political elections my entire life.  I have come to the conclusion that you should only believe half of what a candidate says about himself, and 10% of what he says about his opponent.

Political ads drive me crazy.  They are full of so much fiction that it is a wonder anyone believes them.  I have watched the truth be twisted for so many years that election season is my least favorite time of the year.  One small mistake and a whole career can be ruined by opponents who will twist that mistake into titanic proportions.

Oh, I do still enjoy politics.  What I enjoy about it is the planning for the future.  I love great ideas and huge plans for change.  I have shaken hands with presidents, governors, senators and representatives.  I have sat in their offices and listened to them dream.  Pressing the flesh and dreaming big is a great part of politics.  But come election time it all turns ugly.

So here’s my advice to you as you vote.  If someone said something bad about a candidate, do not believe it.  If the candidate himself sounds too good to be true, he or she is.  Accept that you are going to elect a scoundrel, or a weakling, almost surely one who bends the truth to fit his audience.  Yes, there are a few good politicians out there, but even they need to be watched.  Your job does not finish with the election.

The most important thing you can do is visiting elected officials after they take office.  There you can influence the future.  Electing a person to office means little, it is what you do after they are elected that matters.

Michael



The blame game
July 1, 2014, 8:00 am
Filed under: Politicians, Politics, Vote | Tags: , , , , , ,

Politicians are out to stay in office.  In order to do that they need to drum up some support.  Usually they do that not by bringing people together, but by singling out a few amongst us as the enemy.  Usually it is those who are not well understood.  Those different from the voting base they are talking to.

Today another effort to separate came across my email feed.  The message talked about the decline of the U.S. and how that as a democracy our days may be numbered.  No other democracy has lasted over 200 years, and they were predicting a bad end for our blessed country.  They tried to blame the end of our nation on the immigrants coming into our land of opportunity.  That is where they are wrong.

Currently many of those newest workers in the U.S. are coming into the heartland of our nation.  Did you know that one-third of all immigrants to the U.S. are moving north up the I-35 corridor today?  These are people looking for work, for opportunity.  They are not the shiftless, seekers after an easy dollar that many would have you believe.   Many of these people are well-educated.  27% of our doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, 24% of our health care workers are foreign-born, 18% of our countries small businesses are owned by recent immigrants. These are not people who are a burden on our society, but drivers of our economy.

We look at these others and see people we do not understand.  We tend to forget that we too are of immigrant stock.  My own family is only here since the mid 1800’s.  We have only been here for half of this country’s history.  Our ancestors came here for work just as these newest workers do.

Many of the newest workers in our society are willing to take jobs that our own children do not want.  They process our meat and pick our fruit.  They clean our hotels and take care of our children and grandparents.  They do the dirty, hard jobs so we can live well without thinking about all of that yucky stuff like blood and shit.

It is not these newest ones who are bringing our country down, it is our own children, and yes, the government we voted for that allows us a life of ease.  Americans have voted for the easy life and that would be our demise if it were not for the infusion of new hard working residents in our midst, most of them here legally, but a few of them illegally.  They are here not to take from those already here, but to feed themselves and their families.  Some flee a much harder life of poverty and war, of gangs and bad government.  If we give them jobs, they will stay and thrive as our ancestors did.  If we shut them out, then we are indeed headed for the downfall of democracy.