Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Mergers, Foreign Ownership, Consolidation and Freedom in Agriculture


Smithfield purchased by the Chinese. JBS (Brazilian) buys Swift. Monsanto sold to Bayer (German). Trupointe Cooperative merges with Sunrise Cooperative. John Deere acquires Precision Planting. United States pushes for the Transpacific Partnership trade deal. Penton Media joined to Informa (British). The lists of major realignments in agriculture in recent memory is sizable. "What does an independent family farmer think of all this?" is a question I have been asked by the media and myself.


I have been guilty of just listening, shaking my head, and walking right on. Never stopping to ponder these events and their impact on my life since they seem far off and from a totally different world in scale and structure than the one I live in. I ask myself, "Who has that kind of money? Where would you get it? Why would you spend it if you had it? What does "...for stock, cash, and debt..." mean? Unable to comprehend how these things are done, I default to trying not to care.


Recently, I read an article in the Economist "The Consensus Crumbles" that has given me a framework to hang many thoughts on. The statement that comes back to me time after time is


 "...These trade-offs create a “trilemma”, in Mr Rodrik’s view: societies cannot be globally integrated, completely sovereign and democratic—they can opt for only two of the three. In the late 1990s Mr Rodrik speculated that the sovereignty of nation states would be the item societies chose to discard. Yet it now seems that economic integration may be more vulnerable....".


While I don't propose to understand all that is presented in this article, it has provided a framework with which to examine some of these monumental realignments in a coherent order.


North Korea has tremendous national sovereignty. You don't dare set foot on their turf uninvited. But they have sacrificed international trade completely as a result. Recent News


An EU country can have tremendous trade with countries in the EU but they have surrendered sovereignty and democratic responsiveness to citizens to get it.


I struggle with a country to use as an example where the politicians are acutely responsive to the citizens (strong democracy) but trade and sovereignty are diminished to achieve it. I want to use the United States but hesitate because I don't view our politicians as acutely responsive to the citizens.


How does this play out in my thinking?


When Donald Trump says, "American workers have been getting a bad deal in these trade deals." I hear the word "Deal" in my head because to get more trade we give up something. To make a "deal" you give something to get something.  Most often it seems we give up some of our democratic voice in government to get additional trade, as the courts that rule on disagreements are now international in nature and not US. Take the MCOOL dispute involved with NAFTA for an example. The WTO forced the US to change US laws to comply. The US citizen lost democratic representation.


When I am encouraged to support TPP (Transpacific Partnership) because it will help trade, I have to wonder what the cost will be. I understand that the participants in these big ag realignments need international trade to sustain the companies. They are simply too big to be contained within any one political boundary. I still know instinctively that there is a cost. My trade associations and even the US trade representative side step the issue when asked and just complain about the opponents of Globalism. I know US agriculture needs trade...but we need a sovereign country also.


As Monsanto and Bayer combine I hear the drum beat of consolidation and international trade. Trade we just spoke about but consolidation is the other snare drum of the pair. The number of people that control the technologies of food production (an elite) just got smaller (more elite). When these things are controlled by an elite group that is not elected but hired I grow more nervous of losing my ability to act freely.


When you join an alignment you lose freedom. You will do things according to the alignment protocols/SOPs (standard operating procedures) or you will be punished in some way. The most recent example of this in my world is the Common Swine Industry Audit. While I am told there are safe guards to protect me from this control, I have to wonder, when the audit is written for the packing companies and paid for by the packing companies. This is a red flag warning of how an elite group can control me on my farm.


Even the recent karfuffle around standing for the national anthem hangs on this framework. To protest the National Anthem, a symbol of our national sovereignty, is to weaken us as a nation. It may be raising a democratic voice but it surely is costing the nation something.


The trilemma of trade, democracy, and sovereignty seems to be a useful framework as I ponder these things. What tradeoffs are being made? What trades should be supported? What trades should be rejected? These are the things that this farmer thinks about when I hear about these realignments in agriculture.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Who Should I Vote for?

"Who should I vote for?" "Why should I vote?"


The question would not have surprised me except that the men asking were from a place and station in life that would suggest I should have been asking them. Indeed, I was sitting at breakfast with them for just that purpose. I wanted to hear their understanding of various biblical questions of interest to me. But this is the world right now. Everything seems to be upside down and backwards.


At first I thought they were politely humoring me. As the conversation unfolded, I concluded that the question was quite simply an expression of their openly pondering the situation. So what did I say?


My reply was something along these lines though my thinking has surely advanced since that breakfast.


First, I realize that I am not voting for the candidate of my choice. That candidate is no longer in the race. The ideas he represented have not carried the day.


Second, I realize that I am going to vote for someone that, in my opinion, has some enormous flaws. There is no news there. This will not be the first time the country has voted for a known womanizer, liar, political panderer, enter your favorite flaw for either candidate here, and on and on. The candidates in front of us just don't represent my sensibilities in many areas.


Third, we will be voting on the choice that the two candidates present the nation. In the big picture overview, that appears to me to be between the politically connected, establishment mover and shaker, and a relatively untrained and untested (politically speaking) outsider that does not play by the established rules. In short, do we want to keep doing things the way we always have or are we, as a nation, ready to try and do things differently. The old adage, "If you keep doing the same thing the same way, why are you surprised you did not get a different result" comes to mind. The different way is wrought with peril since it is untested and the rules are not defined yet. Can the Constitution hold this new approach between the rails? Brad Thor seems to see those risk with some clarity thou I think he understates the arguments against Hillary and the braking power that congress can exert if they will. click here for Brad Thor link....... click here for thoughts on Mrs. Clinton's threats


Fourth, I will vote. I have been given an opportunity to help answer this question by the grace of God and the sacrifices of men and women before me. I will vote. It may not be the question I want to be helping decide but it is the question that is set before us. I can make a decision. It is my duty to make a decision. If I have learned anything over the years, "not making a decision" is still "making a decision". Here is a vision of what my voting may look like (courtesy of Third Rock from the Sun) you must vote


Fifth, I am not voting for a person. I don't much care for either. You will not KNOW the true person your vote is attached to, just the image that has been manufactured for you by others.


I will be voting for a bigger picture and be praying that the Lord's will should prevail. I have full confidence in my God's ability to bring about that which He wants. I do not propose to know what that is except that as I read scripture in every case the question can be asked, "Was Jesus/God glorified?" click here for an article on this thinking




There are some other points/questions that I ponder as I consider the situation;


- has the nation decided "that there is no one righteous..." and therefore stopped looking for that in a leader?


- has the nation decided that if there is no condemnation/judgement on evil doers then why worry about condemning/judging politicians at the polls for their wickedness?


- the Lord does not talk of building an earthly kingdom (though I fully support the idea that America has benefited from the Lord's great blessings and is an exceptional place in that regard) but rather He is focused on the eternal and ushering souls into that kingdom. Elections need to be viewed against that back drop.


- Do words have no fixed meaning any more? You can't really trust any thing you are told so why demand honesty from a candidate? Look at food advertising and tell me which words really have meaning attached to them. Is politics any different?


Thank you for considering these views with me.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Iran nukes and Planned Parenthood an open letter to Congress

I am a simple hog farmer. A tender of pigs. I am not well educated in things of politics. I become confused easily by the hesitations and excitements of some matters of national importance. I would like to ask those in positions of authority a couple questions. The answers seem simple to me, but as I have said, I am a simple tender of pigs.


Dear Sir or Madame:


If the question before you for debate was, "Should we take $500 million from the national treasury over the next year and use it for a military adventure that will with certainty cost something like 3000 soldier lives (not wounded but dead) each DAY?", would you vote for it? How dire would the national situation be to compel you to vote for such an action? I expect no one would support such a motion.


How then do you support the use of a similar amount of money in support of Planned Parenthood exacting this type of cost on the future greatness of America's youth? Please don't confuse me and yourself with debates about all sorts of what ifs and wherefores. I am a simple man and know beyond the shadow of doubt that without these abortions America would be 3000 people a day greater in number and richer in spirit.


Likewise, how do you support the establishment of a relationship with Iran that will surely put vastly more than $500 million a year in their national treasury. Do you not know that Iran uses money to ship terror/death all over the world. Will they be able to achieve 3000 lives a day for a year before we are forced to respond?


How is it that Iran needs "peaceful" nuclear programs (that means nuclear electric plants I suppose)? They sit on an enormous oil field fully capable of powering any domestic energy needs they might have. But that is a side note.


How is it that you, my elected authority, seem to be taking time to consider passing either of these two proposals that will with certainty cost this nation the hope of our youth if not much more?


To a simple man it makes no sense.


Sincerely:


Charles Wildman

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Home Away from Home

My mother, Margaret Wildman, pasted away around Thanksgiving time a year and a half ago. I inherited many things, but the one of interest in today's discussion is her conversion van.

1994 Dodge Pleasureway with 112,000 miles

If ever there was a vehicle that was only driven "By a little old lady", this is it. There are a couple scuff marks on the right side to prove it. Using your mirrors gets harder at some point in your life.




Mom traveled at a slow pace. Moving from place to place as she felt inclined. She met many people and saw those things that interested her along the way.

You can see a lot through a windshield
both seats will reverse for seating


This home away from home provided a kitchen with conveniences. Microwave, refrigerator (this is a standard dorm refrigerator since the gas convertible one died), sink, propane cooktop, hot water, and various storage options, all came with the deal.







The rear area was for sleeping and dining. The table and desk box can lay down between the benches to form a base for the back rests to lay on, making a queen size sleeping area.





The RV is equipped with propane hot water, propane furnace, a refrigerator (originally an electric/propane refrigerator), sewer and holding tanks, fresh water both from a hook up or internal tank, and a cable TV access point.

controls for generator, water pump, holding tanks, co/smoke detector


furnace vent

storage for electric cord

30 amp 120 volt

propane tank


Not sure why fresh water hook up and sewer hose storage are side by side


The bathroom and shower are the same physical space and would seem sort of tight. Not the high point of the tour but handy at certain times.





To me, the air conditioner is one of the nice things about this arrangement. At the end of a long day, I know I can sleep where it is cool. I find that comforting.


I hope this gives you the basic idea of what my mother's home away from home was like. What questions do you have?

I can be reached at Wildman.charles@gmail.com or at 937-462-7082 by txt or voicemail.

Thanks for your interest.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Get in the Basement, NOW!

The farmer's I know are a tough and resilient lot, not given to lengthy speeches, so when they utter a command like, "Get in the basement, NOW!" it is the wise person that obeys. My neighbor's family undoubtedly heard something similar the other afternoon, all obeyed, and all were survived a direct hit from a tornado.

the scene two days later
This is the scene two days later when I arrived to help in the clean up. I was dumbfounded by the destruction and the intense activity involved in the cleanup. It touches my emotions to see a community marshal so many resources in such a short period of time to help a neighbor in need.
I don't know who, but it was obvious that someone that knew how to organize people was leading the cleanup effort.

A food tent was established

A parking area was cleaned and established

Heavy equipment and many hands were hard at it
I observed no sign of law enforcement to maintain order. No one obviously directing traffic. No one driving by to watch. No one (except me) taking pictures. Just a beehive of people doing stuff. If anyone were to be caught looting they are to be pitied among men.

This was a farmstead two days ago

71 years it took to build

One moment to destroy
I noticed that everything a man had built over a lifetime was gone, but the land that has sustained him remains. How fleeting is the work of our hands.


Skill and training are needed to remove grain from damaged structures safely

shinny grain bins are part of a farms beauty and pride

a year's worth of work is stored inside
This is not how you are suppose to move a "wet holding" bin


Trucks, power, cranes, driveways, it all came together



 
Wonder how that got there?
As I spoke with the two farmer's that call this sight "home", two generations working together, I was struck by their gentle, humble, and peaceful recognition that life goes on.

The verse in Ecclesiastes 3 comes to mind "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,......I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That every man may eat and drink, an find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God. .....".

There is also the story of how Job responded to the devastation that befell his family and property, a wealthy man wiped out in a single day, Job 1:20 "...Then he fell to the ground in worship and said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

These are not men to preach scripture to you, or lecture it in the streets, but they communicated their deep faith and understanding of life simply in their living and fortitude. The crowd that showed up in their time of need is testimony to how clearly they have lived among their neighbors. This is the stuff that makes a farm community and makes me proud to be a part of it.


On behalf of the families struck by this disaster I want to say "Thank you!" to the community that showed up helped and cared. It is this acting together that makes a person feel safe, secure, and at home. Thank you to everyone.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Quick notes from Animal Ag Alliance Stakeholder Summit


Cracking the Millennial Code:

The Animal Ag Alliance hosted its annual conference in DC last week. Click for more information.

Honesty drives me to point out that the only part of the code I was interested in cracking is “how do we get money out of their pockets?” If not for that issue there would have been no conference, unless it was the secondary “How do we get them to vote for us?” or "How do I communicate affectively with this group?"
A quick glance at the list of speakers will show you that there were a lot of experienced and talented people presenting their ideas. I had to work hard to keep up. Let alone understand the importance of what I was hearing. For a taste of what the conference was like here is a link to a session from Panera Bread

The take home points for me were something like this and amount to little more than quick notes and personal thoughts:
Millennials are hard to define.

Millennials are an extension of the “me” generation in that they “want it now, the way they want it, with good quality, and a low price”. Which makes you pause and think when you realize how many choices there are for entertainment, news, information, social groups, and so forth, all the way down to personalized coupons at the checkout register.  My thought was, "And our government is trying to give us a “one size fits all” health care system and tax code. Politics aside, can that possibly have any staying power in our society?" I want to be treated as an individual, not a group.

Millennials were defined by age but the working definition at the conference seemed to be,  "those people that are living highly connected, social media lives."

Millenials shy away from long term relationships/commitments (from marriage to phone contracts) since they have seen and been hurt by so many in the past.

Millennials want transparency as a substitute for honesty and trust. Their life experience has taught them not to trust anyone because no one is honest. Broken homes. Broken marriages. Government lies. Depravity in the church. Schools that don’t teach but indoctrinate. Scientific manipulations. A press full of propaganda and not news. Etc.  So if they don’t see it themselves or at least get it from a friend, they doubt it. They are skeptics first. It is a really sad commentary on the failures of society’s institutions. All of them.

Millennials want a company to be about more than “making money”. They are highly sensitive to the ability for a company to make money by ignoring the environmental costs of their endeavor (exploiting the environment) or exploiting workers, so they want to know the company has that cost built into its equation somehow. This can be through environmental reclaimation (planting trees comes to mind) or proving they don’t pollute (green companies) in the first place to auditing of worker conditions in developing countries.

If a company is profitable, Millennials will expect it to be socially conscientious with those profits and give back/pay it forward to society in some public way. This is tough for those of us who think of charity and good works as a private matter. My thought is that one should not do your good works out in the public eye to be praised by man but should do them so your heavenly Father alone is aware of them. Millenials aren’t trusting, and secrecy is not part of their value system, so deeds done in secret/private don’t get a company anything. So start a fund, start a campaign, stand for something, start a hashtag, change your profile picture.

The crisis management exercise pointed out that companies are being judged constantly by the mob that is millenials. The contrast between what the communications department knew needed to be done to protect the company’s image/brand/value (communicate and be transparent) to fend off the judgment of the millennial mob and what the legal department wanted to do to protect the company from the trial by jury that was obviously coming, could not have been clearer. One says “if you don’t tell your story someone else will”, the other says “anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law” so stop communicating/talking.

Sustainability fits in here somehow.

They are cynics until you question/challenge their reality then you are evil and must be destroyed. Perception is reality to them and reality is not welcome.

The conference had too much information for me to assemble and process at one time into much more than the notes listed above. I hope that others who were there or watching on line may comment and post links that expand these thoughts. As a pig farmer, my mind struggled to follow some of these very good and well educated and trained speakers. I am trained to observe animals with my eyes, ears, and nose more than to listen and ponder big ideas, but exercise builds strength, so I appreciate the experience and exposure to the new ideas.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Wall Street Journal, Dried Blood Plasma, Pig Feed, and PEDV

I write this post as a result of a online conversation. A conversation that was kicked off by this article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal which looks at the possible role feed may play in the spread of a new disease in the US swine heard. As a producer, it seems like a pretty reasonable article on the current situation in the pig business related to a virus known as PED-V. Several questions coming out of that discussion were basically, "So what is in pig feed?" "How would I know?" And of course, "Should I be concerned?"

These all seemed like pretty sensible questions that I, a pig farmer, should be able to answer. I now realize that I know answers to some of these questions or maybe I should say I know some of the answer to all these questions. As I conversed, I came to understand that some part of these answers just gets a bit too academic for me. So let me share the part I do know.

Pig feed, in my commercial setting (I will see about 25,000 pigs this year), is made from three main things. Corn, soybean meal, and a product called a "premix". These three ingredients are blended together in various proportions to make numerous "rations" or "phases". Each "ration" and "premix" is professionally formulated by a nutritionist to meet the pigs dietary needs for a particular "phase" in the pigs life. When I need feed I call a feed supplier (a feed milling company) and they use these formulations to prepare the requested feed, then they deliver it to my farm. Here is a video of feeding newly weaned pigs. Feeding newly weaned pigs.

pigs are 21-24 days of age when weaned

Think about your children as they grow. They grow through various growth "phases" and you as a good parent attempt to adjust their meals "rations" to recognize the changing dietary needs your children have. Your baby gets breast milk or formula. Then there is a transition time (which can be challenging for everyone) to solid food. The contents of that solid food change as the quantity being consumed increases. You notice your child having growth spurts where they seem to eat everything in the house, then they slow down. In the teen years, at least for my boys, they ate constantly. So mom adjusted what was in the house to be eaten. And so on it goes on through life.

This is the big picture of what is being done with the three ingredients in pig feed. Now to the online conversation and the Wall Street Journal article.

So how does this work?

Here is the process.

I have pigs that need feed.

In my case I buy young pigs that have just been weaned from their birth mother's at the Fair Oaks Pig Adventure. They are about 21-24 days of age and weigh 12-18 #. They arrive on a semi truck to my barns after a 4 hour ride. Here is a 5 minute video my daughter made of  how we wean baby pigs.

I call the feed milling company and tell them what "phase/ration" is needed and how many tons I want. They mill and deliver the request then send me a bill.

Feed arrives on my farm from the feed mill in a semi truck and is put in these bins. Each delivery comes with paperwork that is placed in the mailbox. This paperwork allows me to know what is in the bins. Which ration. Which bin. What is in the ration. What day. Where it was mixed. And many other things. The paperwork allows for trace back should some question arise at a later date about what the pigs where feed etc.

Bins for pig feed/mailbox for paperwork




The paperwork that comes with a load of pig feed looks like this. There are three pieces of paper. The center white one identifies the ingredients in the ration. The yellow one on the left is the "pick ticket" which tells the driver which rations are in which compartment of the trailer and where they go when they arrive on my farm. The yellow sheet on the right is the scale receipt that ultimately generates my bill. Maybe I ordered 24 tons of feed but the system actually manufactured 48,230# of feed. Life is that way. I get billed for 48230# of feed.

Standard paperwork with a load of pig feed

For this discussion it is the white paper that details the ingredients in a particular ration that is of interest. Below is the label for the first ration my newly weaned pigs will receive. They will eat this feed for 3-4 days and will each get about 2# of it.

This particular ration is named "Prestart 12/15 Pellet MX" which means this is a feed to be used as feed in advance (pre) of starting the pigs on ground feed and it is designed for pigs weighing from 12-15 pounds. It is a pellet type feed, as opposed to a ground meal or mash, and that it is medicated (MX).

All of this is explained in greater detail in the fine print. I describe the medication side of this in this blog about medications in pig feed.

Note: some of this gets down to PPM = parts per million


this tag states clearly what is in the feed my pigs are eating

The next picture shows the bottom of the same tag where the ingredients are listed. This is where my education starts to fall short and I am depending on the professional swine nutritionist and the research community to formulate a proper feed. The nutritionist is using all the research he can find (much of it from the land grant colleges of the US), his experience, and his knowledge of the laws and regulations from FDA and others to put this formula together.  I don't know particularly, what all these things are but you can see that Animal Protein Products, Animal Plasma, and Animal Fat are all listed. This is the product that the Wall Street Journal article was discussing. Here is a link to a paper that describes the Plasma Product in greater detail in layman's language. Please read it at least far enough to realize that the Plasma is reducing the need for antibiotics by boosting immune systems and increasing feed intakes (reducing dietary stress).

"The globulin proteins are commonly called “immunoglobulins”, and they are responsible for enhancing immunity in the recipient animal." 
Having an "enhanced immunity" would mean reducing antibiotic usage, and that seems like a good use of the product.



Ingredient list and feeding instructions

The next tag is for the second ration the pigs will be fed. This will be their first ground (not a pellet or mash) feed. It is corn, soybean meal, and a premix. It is the last antibiotic these pigs will see before slaughter in 5 months unless there is some specific disease outbreak. Again I refer you to my blog post on medications in pig feed.



feed tag for ground feed ration

 
From my online conversation, I am aware that these ingredient lists can be seen as quite scary and some are quite opposed to parts of this. I would remind you that there is absolutely no reason a company or myself would be putting anything in a feed that we thought might harm the pigs or the consumer that is eventually going to put that pork on their dinner table. That would be shooting ourselves in the foot. I will close with this humorous clip by Penn and Teller and a discussion of Dihydrogen Monoxide.

I am very grateful for the really smart people in agriculture that work tirelessly to come up with innovative ways to put food on our plates that is safe, wholesome, and as environmentally friendly as possible.