More of a senile whimper than a baby-boom bang

Written by TF staff on .

With the United Nations declaring that the world now hosts some 7 billion souls, the media, and folks around the water cooler alike, have been gnashing teeth and lamenting that we’re doomed to be over-crowded, hungry and generally miserable in the future. Joel Kotkin, a demographer and writer for Forbes (see his work here: reminds us that there are viable opposing views to this projected dystopia. Kotkin and other demographers suggest the possibility that dropping birth rates in many developed countries could spread to the more fecund developing countries, leaving the world with a rapidly diminishing growth rate that leads eventually to population decline. Here is Kotkin writing in Forbes Magazine:

The childlessness phenomenon stems largely from such things as urbanization, high housing prices, intense competition over jobs and the rising prospects for women. The secularization of society—essentially embracing a self-oriented prospective—may also be a factor.

If this trend gains momentum, we may yet witness one of the greatest demographic revolutions in human history. As larger portions of the population eschew marriage and children, today’s projections of old age dependency ratios may end up being wildly understated. More important, the very things that have driven human society from primitive time—such as family and primary concern for children—will be shoved ever more to the sidelines. Our planet may be less crowded and frenetic, but, as in many of our child-free environments, a little bit sad and lot less vibrant.

Our future may well prove very different from the Malthusian dystopia widely promoted in the 1960s and still widely accepted throughout the media. With fewer children and workers, and more old folks, the “population bomb” end up being more of an implosion than an explosion.

Crop diversity isn’t so diminished

Written by TF staff on .

The foodies have told you that there is less diversity among the fruits and vegetables we consume. But here comes a bit of research that says the foodies are wrong. University of Illinois law professor Paul Heald said overall varietal diversity of the $20 billion market for vegetable crops and apples in the U.S. actually has increased over the past 100 years.

“The conventional wisdom, as illustrated in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic, holds that the last century was a disaster for crop diversity,” he said. “In the mainstream media, this position is so entrenched that it no longer merits a citation.”

To support that conclusion, Heald and co-author Susannah Chapman, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Georgia, studied thousands of commercially available varieties of 42 vegetable crops from 1903 to 2004, as well as varieties of apples from 1900 to 2000.

“We started with the assumption that every year we advanced in the 20th century there would be fewer and fewer varieties offered for sale commercially,” Heald said.

But when the researchers went to Washington to study varieties available in historical commercial seed and nursery catalogs, they were surprised by what they found as they worked through the years 1900 to 1930.
“There was no evident sign of decline, so we decided to step back and take a snapshot of 1903 and 2004, two years where others had collected full data on all-important vegetable crops,” Heald said. “We came to this with the exact same preconceptions as everyone else, but we couldn’t ignore facts that were smacking us in the face.”

According to Heald, the reason no one questioned the  conventional wisdom of a crop diversity crisis earlier is that the narrative “resonates so completely with assumptions made in all the socio-biological fields.”
“This false notion of waning crop diversity fits an accepted narrative,” Heald said. “It reconfirms what people already believe, and that belief is certainly bolstered by people’s casual observations about lack of diversity in the supermarket.”

Heald said the lack of choice in the fruit and vegetable section of grocery stores creates the impression that there’s a diversity crisis.

“Since we don’t see the diversity, it must not be there,” he said. “It fits in with a narrative of bad environmental news. There’s no doubt the 20th century was a bad century for the environment, so it must also have been a bad century for crop diversity. But it turns out this is one area in the last century that was pretty good. So all these factors bundled together led to a consensus that was never questioned and never really explored systematically until now.”

According to the study, 40 percent of the diversity gains the researchers found were from imports, but only 3 percent of gains could be traced to patents and less than 1 percent from biotechnological innovation.
“The influx of immigrants from South America and Asia have really brought a lot of new germ plasm into the U.S.,” Heald said. “On the other hand, government stimulus, like patent law, plays a role in only 3 percent of diversity gains, with biotech innovation constituting less than 1 percent.”

In the debate between economists who believe that patent law is essential to increasing plant diversity through innovation, and anthropologists and ethno-botanists who believe that patents destroyed plant diversity in the 20th century, Heald said the study demonstrates that both sides are wrong.

“The story of vegetables and apples in the 20th century is a story of markets working without government intervention, so it’s really a confluence of liberal and conservative dogma,” he said. “You see immigrants, off-the-grid seed savers, small farmers and local gardeners preserving and innovating.”

The study also includes the caveat that corn may be the exception to the influence of the patent system, as federal property rights play a more prevalent role in the ubiquitous crop, as well as with soybeans and cotton.

What are your calves worth?

Written by Mike John on .


I get asked a lot how to know what cattle are really worth.  Price discovery occurs every day at the market, but for your own cattle you “discover” it only after they are sold. There are some tools available to everyone who will go to the effort to find them. 

Precision Corn Ear Maze

Written by James Fashing on .

Just outside of Lexington, Mo., Big River Ranch grew its first corn maze this year. The ranch, which specializes in trail rides, went high tech to bring the corn maze into its family fun offerings this year. The maze design was executed exclusively by a precision planter. “We were the guinea pigs on the project and we think it is a great first try,” said Robby Mauppen, Big River Ranch manager. “Kudos to the team that made it work, they are real pros.”

The maze was planted in the shape of an ear of corn by Lexington farmer Jim Steffens using an Ag Leader Seed Command system on his planter. Lexington MFA precision farming specialist Matt Stock did the computer work, which told the planter when to plant and not to plant. “It took quite a bit of work using four different computer programs, but I have it figured out now,” said Stock. “Next year’s design ought to be easier.”

 You can find the maze at 2011 Goodloe Orchard Road, Lexington, Mo., and online at At press time, the maze was open daily 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is $5.

Find Hay online

Written by TF staff on .

With pastures in poor condition and plenty of hay consumed earlier in the season, producers need to be proactive in making sure their herds have enough hay to get through to spring green up. Here are a few online resources that might help. As always, buyer and seller beware—these listings are simply information exchanges, buyers and sellers must agree to terms, verify hay quality and payment.

MU/MDA Hay Listings: or

The Hay Connection on Facebook:   

Oklahoma Department of Ag Hay Listings (In-State):

Kansas Farm Bureau Hay & Pasture Exchange:

Texas Department of Agriculture Hay and Grazing Hotline:

University of Arkansas Hay Producers Database:

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency HayNet:


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