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Michael Smith



Articles by Michael Smith

Cattle Crystal Ball

3 days ago

Herd consolidation seems to be the main point being plugged right now as the total herd population of beef cattle is dropping and will continue to drop well into next year. This mirrors the 2014 cattle year where we had a steep downturn in total US herd.

Next year will be more of the same with a general degradation of total population. Here are the factors:

Severe drought has brought about pasture shortages. Lack of rain in the western parts of the country have left scorched plains of barren land that are hard pressed to support a herd of any size, unless the stockman can afford supplementation to hay or feed from either high-priced silage or hay that must be trucked in at high transport prices. Once sustenance is addressed, there is a third

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The Impending Doom, Gloom, and Fiery Crash of Independent Meat Processors

5 days ago

Market consolidation is nowhere near revolutionary news these days, as we have seen meat processing plants loom ever larger. Sitting right outside of major or semi-major metropoles, freshly frozen stock of proteins are brought in at all hours of the day and night to sell at a meat retail counter in all large chain grocers around the country. This has more or less been the model since the 1980s where corporate consolidation, mergers, acquisitions, and vertical integration have all lead to the downfall of local butcher shops, and even decimating larger regional outfits. The large behemoths spanning multinational presence have consolidated tight control on everything but the product, and not for lack of trying. 

Agricultural journalism is as much

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Breaking Into Agriculture: Episode 2, Small Scale Multi & Monocrop Farming

10 days ago

With the Breaking Into series we will explore US agriculture, the least complex, the most complex, the failures, frustrations, sustainability, costs, and future of each topic that makes up modern agricutlure. On this episode we are going to explore a more complex, yet still small, system of farming for profit, Small Plot Farming.

Small Plot Farming in a name can seem inadequate, small, not useful in the bigger picture of global agribusiness, but in a micro economy, small farms have huge impacts. Small scale is not small at all. A three acre plot of land can fee hundred of community members. An acre of tomatoes can net a farmer a significant five figure revenue. One decent plot of watermelons can push the farm to a six figure retail contract with a

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Breaking Into Agriculture: Episode 1, Market Gardens

12 days ago

With the Breaking Into series we will explore US agriculture, the least complex, the most complex, the failures, frustrations, sustainability, costs, and future of each topic that makes up modern agricutlure. On this episode we are going to explore one of the more simple ways to get into professional agriculture, Market Gardens.

Market Gardens by another name are simply backyard gardens where the output is more than the habitants of land can consume and sell the excess at cost or for profit. This is one of the simplest models for turning income in agriculture.

Market Gardens have been given a black eye from the industry mostly due to the size and scope of each. Gardner compared to a farmer is a large feux pas. Farmers dislike being compared to

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Small Ag Has the Same Issues as Big Ag: Age and Fresh Blood

17 days ago

The average age of the American farmer has been stuck at 57.5 since 2017 and hasn’t seemed to budged into 2021 despite an explosion of new farmer operators choosing to quit their pandemic day jobs and head for the fields to participate in small plot farming and local market vending. Generationally, the unfortunate circumstance with an aging farmer population and high land values equates to what Agricultural Economics Professor Dr. Shannon Ferrell of OSU found:

Research at OSU is showing that fewer than 30 percent of farms and ranches are surviving intact in the first generation of transfer and even some estimates show that number is closer to 10 -20 percent. If you look at multiple generations, the numbers shrink even more to 12 percent and three

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A Progressive Farm Policy From Conservative Texas Politicians?

August 26, 2022

Something interesting is happening in Texas. Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller’s office has made a hard push on a marketing campaign for a renewed push for the Farm Fresh Network. Including a new website design.

To catch you all up, the Farm Fresh Network was an initiative created by the Ag Commissioners office in 2015 that created an online network of local farms; a database of where, who, and what is being grown there, for the farmers as well as for consumers to see where they can buy local produce and proteins. At the time, this embrace didn’t garner the media attention it deserved and for the past seven years has been what would be an otherwise failed policy push.

A few years ago, however, school districts were given the ability to

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Sources of Interest

August 25, 2022

Agricultural news is slim, few and far between and usually relegated to only a few places. Mainstream media doesn’t have an audience for hard ag journalism, and ag journalism mostly preaches to the choir.

Two great publications that I typically get information from are Successful Farming and AgWeb –. Both have varying degrees of in-depth coverage and decent reporting. I also subscribe to Successful Farming magazine. Usually, I can find topics that are of interest, but there are only two. In the age of new media, however, there is a third option that most wouldn’t realize – podcasts.

Here are a few of the podcasts I listen to throughout the days and a little color that you may find with them. Some are agriculturally related and some are not,

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The Future of Farming

August 12, 2022

The world economy is undergoing extreme changes that have been both generational as well as exacerbated by lack of investment, global pandemic and supply chain crunch. Logistical nightmare aside, the generational shift from the prosperity of the Baby Boomer generation in the West as well as the great readjustment in China post Mao and the post-Soviet boom of Russian Millennials have been long coming, but underforecast or appreciated. Turn of the millennium, economists warned of the aging population, the stagflation of Japan, and the eventual asset transition from generation to generation within a Flat Economy, as Thomas Friedman would go on to write.

In our post subsistence economy, we focus too often on the cashflows of companies that make stuff.

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Cattle Report 2nd Quarter ’22, Steady as the Driving Heat

July 21, 2022

We are firmly into an ENSO phase in the United States that could be regarded as the essence of the word dire. Milestones in Texas the past two weeks from a drought, weather, and a livestock production perspective are coming fast and often. Largely throughout the entire west – it’s hot, dry, and uncomfortable, both from a producer perspective but also as a common person, and more so for livestock out on the range with very little way of seeking protections from temperatures and extremes in lack of rain. We are and have stayed in a triple digit territory and the grass fires have started two months early.

Thanks to the entire population, we have collectively understood and prevented grass, forest, and large land fires as per recent. As with any dry

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Farming With a Tesla

June 15, 2022

Texas is big. To frame how big, let me contextualize the normal travels for a rural resident in a few touch points that are universal. The closest large city with a decently large grocery store and a Home Depot are 37 miles one way. When running an “errand” it is easy to tack on 100 miles to the odometer in just a few hours. The parents are 42 miles away in the next city “down the highway” as it were. Sister in law 92 miles, brother 121 miles, Tesla service 96 miles, just to get out of the state 200+ miles, you get the picture. Long distances and only possibly with a personal vehicle.

The inefficiency that these vast expanses between cities present the residents are equally problematic. Run has been documenting recently, even this morning about

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The Market Problem, Part 1: Direct to Consumer

June 9, 2022

In this series we explore marketing farm fresh goods in the litany of different ways as a direct consumer edibles farmer. Many types of farms exist within the framework of directly edible, from market gardens, to 100 acre California avocado fields, dairy barns, hen houses, and multiple large monocrop “people food” producers.

Direct to Consumer is exactly what it implies. A farmer seeds, grows, reaps or milks, slaughters and packs food and then sells directly to consumers from the farm or through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share program by way of either box delivery to the patrons door steps, a predefined location pickup at a specific time and date, or at the farm gate directly. The closer to the farm is the more advantageous to the

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May 29th Planted Progress, Caught Up To Averages

May 31, 2022

The USDA Planted Progress report has just been released today and the progress report now puts 2022 plantings at around the five year averages. Sugar beets are continuing to plant behind average time-frames as Minnesota and North Dakota struggle with weather delays. Per the USDA report, corn, soybeans and other silage are looking about in target.

Wheat condition continues to be an issues year over year for the winter crop, but the headings are coming along nicely. Spring wheat planting still lags the five year average coming in at 73%, with the five year average of 92% at this stage in a current year. Wheat plantings will continue, as the crop prices due to the consequential issues on agriculture blockage of Ukraine exports is keeping milled flour

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May 23rd Planted Progress Report

May 24, 2022

Planters have been running all out over the last few weeks as the envelope to get spring planted before summer heat and drought sets in even further. We will start with what the market was expecting yesterday and the results of the USDA Planted Progress Report as of yesterday.

Discussed at length on yesterday’s Go Farm Yourself spaces meeting via Ag Twitter, the hosts, commodity traders, and the listeners, mostly agriculture producers, farmers, yours truly, and folks in the ag retail space, grain elevators, truckers, custom work contractors, spoke commodities and general ag goings on this week. The market was expecting planted soy to be at 48-50% planted and corn to come in around 68-70%. Wheat for the winter crop for good and excellent condition

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Farm & Ranch Quick Market Update

May 16, 2022

Harvest season has sprung upon us in a hurry. We had to spend a few evenings in the fields collecting squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and even dug up all of the potatoes, among the multitude of other things we planted this spring and continue to plant. It’s been a busy few weeks that have been hard both physically as well as mentally due to market conditions but we will get to that.

Current Macro ag is coming in hot. Commodities futures are up across the board due to ongoing floods in the Midwest, and even snow still falling in some places. The floods have been hitting to our north and turning entire fields into lakes that sit damp and unable to plant until dry. Our neighbors further north into Canada have recently been dumped on causing further

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We Will Get It Planted

May 4, 2022

In Texas a large portion of Plant ’22 has already happened. Central Texas corn emergence is already knee high, green, and waiting for the rains to continue this week. Other parts of the country have struggled to get seed in the ground either due to low soil temps, too much precipitation or no rain to speak of.

This past week or so as rains and storms, some wreaking tornado havoc, have doused the land in various agriculturally important regions. There have been many, many farmers rushing to get seed in the ground so that the harvest come off will at least happen in a somewhat usual manner. This has lead to some crazy videos on social media of guys running big iron John Deeres at 15mph with what looked like an 18 row planter. That is insane most

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Dry, Dusty, Rain. Humid, Windy, Dry. Chaos and The Grip of La Niña

April 26, 2022

Just how dry have the ground conditions been? Dire. Fire sweeping towns from Austin to Los Angeles, dire. Rain? Forecast yes, but closer to the Powell Line. The Powell Line, as stated previously is where the dry plains and the wet prairie meet. An abundance and a desert. Too much and not enough. Floods and fire.

We finally got rain today. Much needed as we have pumped 20,000 gallons and then some per month out of the aquifer supplying Dallas, Bryan, College Station and San Antonio with water. Austin as well as a multitude of other communities along the way. California is an example we must follow and the amount of mulch we have spread to keep the ground moist measures in the tens of tonnes this season, and we need more. A lot more. California more.

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We May Be on The Precipice of a Dust Bowl

April 18, 2022

We May Be on The Precipe of a Dust Bowl

La Niña is showing her brutality as places that need to plant soon are snowed in and the places that have planted are dry, dry, dry, with the exception of the Mississippi floodplain.

Here in central Texas, we are hit and miss with the official precip totals a little less than average, but we are not even at seven inches of measurable precipitation so far this year on my farm, which is less than an hour west of Easterwood airport, or the closest National Weather Service gauge. That gauge is at 10 inches of cloud tears for the year. Normally we would be well over a foot, and turning over the soil in March or April, we would not expect the first six inches of depth look like this:

This is dry…abnormally so.

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Meanwhile in Texas: Privatize the Profits, Socialize the Losses

April 12, 2022

Under the guise of “protecting” citizens, the Texas legislature, instead of having the gas companies eat their losses from Winter Storm Uri last year, have floated a $3.4 billion bond package to have the taxpayers fund it. The sales pitch is that the gas companies, three large and a smattering of smaller operators get made while whilst the citizens tax dollars fund the bailout over time.

As most of you know, Texas doesn’t have income taxes, and the majority of property taxes fund the schools and local communities. Taxes are assessed on commercial interests, which did contribute to almost $16 billion in state revenue last year, but largely the state makes it’s money from the 8.25% sales taxes that are comparable with New York City, some of the

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Poultry Epidemic Causing Pandemic Prices

April 8, 2022

The avian influenza does not seem to be letting up with multiple states reporting cases, including Texas. Here is the current map of reported cases.

The USDA and USGS have been doing a good job of tracking and confirming cases through APHIS, and the surprising news that has all of us in the poultry business worried is that this is a highly pathogenic virus that is transmitted through wild birds and domestic alike. Sparrows, crows, cardinals and other wild species enjoy getting into our grain bins, flying into or next to our coops, or for us pastured poultry people, birds will comingle. This leaves ample opportunity for birds to be within close proximity and very quickly spread the virus around. As migratory species start coming back from the

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Confidently Incorrect

April 6, 2022

You ever have those facts wedged in your mind so deep that you feel that it is the bottom of your foot truth? That full contact, no holds barred, yes I know this? It happens to most of us. And recently me. A few days ago I wrote about the strata of agricultural land use with a bit of this nonsense:

For context, about 425 million acres is total farmland in the US, with three quarters going to direct croppage and the last quarter to livestock and dairy.

Boy was I wrong. I had always assumed only a small enclave of land was designated to agricultural use,

American lands devoted to agriculture are a staggering 900+ million. Two fifths. About 40%. And very much in the heart of the country.

Now, this includes all kinds of farming, timber, hay

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1st Quarter 2022 Planted Report, a Strange Turn and More of the Same

April 4, 2022

As we rounded out the month of March the USDA has been busy assessing the planted acres around the United States, reported the 31st of March. Much to my prior post, there are not really any surprises as the data has indicated that the planting is mirroring last year…with a few caveats, most namely the switch of 4% moving to soy from corn.

Let’s take a look at the estimates from the FBN group and their phone survey they conducted a week or so ago to get a pulse on the planted acres so far and extrapolate on what we can see going into harvest.

This is about what I was expecting from a surveyed population of farmers. One thing that does strike my interest is the uptick in soybeans. Given the $900 to $1,200 per ton of urea, and other nitrogen

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Do We Produce Too Much If We Are Making Corn Into Plastic Bottles?

March 28, 2022

Outside of agriculture there is a feeling of vast quantities, that farmers produce too much corn, soybeans, cotton, and other monocrops in a habitat destroying, bee killing, rural, backward, government sponsored enterprise that is slowly adding to climate change and environmental destruction. Agriculture is largely reactionary and heavily influenced by capitalism. If the need is there, and the price is right, the crop will be produced.

One of the Three Sisters

Corn, the silage, feed stock, multi-use plastics and sugar crop that has come to dominate the American Midwest. We grow too much, or do we not grow enough? Biofuels are no better for the climate, so we have to cast that aside, so why corn for fuel? The ethanol derived is often much

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Friday Update: Warehouse What? Protein Inflation, Tanks and Wheat

March 25, 2022

We’re headed into a busy planting week as we get phase whatever into the ground and more stuff started. At some point we will build caterpillar tunnels to shield crop from extreme August heat, and winter frost, but we plan to plant year round as best we can.

A few things happening in the ag world here lately that are of note:

Vertical farming in climate controlled warehouses. Really bad idea.

The case of the vegetable farms in warehouses where corporations are growing food in a giant climate controlled, sterile, with no natural light. Wall Street and tech firms have been clamoring as of late of urban warehouse renovations where they grow lettuce and field greens in Houston and strawberries in New Jersey. Removing the nature and risk creates

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First Quarter ’22 Cattle & Ranch Report

March 21, 2022

Green grass is growing finally down south as some rainfalls are being received east of the Colorado River, not that Colorado River, the other one that moves through Austin, and has very little to do with it’s namesake. Grass growing in the spring brings on the grazing and let’s the ranchers get off the expensive feed. Now is also the time to sow sorghum for the herds to clear in the next few months. Net, net it’s still an expensive business to be in.

As the ranchers eyed the beginning of this year, a reduction had been discussed in the total herd population. A culling of 800,000 was expected to drive farmgate prices up to actually cover costs, as the packers have gotten record bounties, the ranchers have enjoyed none of higher prices. The supply

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Spirit of The Mist, Drowned in the Desert

March 17, 2022

Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.The very deep did rot: O Christ! That ever this should be! Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs Upon the slimy sea.About, about, in reel and rout, The death-fires danced at night; The water, like a witch’s oils, Burnt green, and blue and white.And some in dreams assured were, Of the Spirit that plagued us so; Nine fathom deep he had followed us, From the land of mist and snow.And every tongue, through utter drought, Was withered at the root; We could not speak, no more than if, We had been choked with soot.Samuel Taylor Coleridge

5.37

We are forecast to gather another 0.30 inches of rainfall to round out the quarter of the first of 2022 to

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Another Trying Season, La Nina Now Through Summer

March 10, 2022

The good folks over at the National Weather Service have posted that La Nina, the ENSO negative Pacific Ocean pattern is here to stay for a threepeat.

What this typically means for us in the US is that we are looking at drought. More drought. From the Texas South to the Dakota’s. This also means more rainfall in northern spots, flooding in the Ohio River Valley, much like we saw in Tennessee last year, and an uptick in hurricane activity coming off the gulf.

El Nino is the opposite positive effect that pushes atmospheric waves over the Rockies to descind down into the plains to convect the warm, moist Gulf onshore flows. We see this in Texas as regular fronts with squalls of good soaking rains. In the Corn Belt, El Nino reduces the chances

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Kosher, a Word With Two Meanings

March 5, 2022

There is the forbidden, there is the given, the meek, and the powerful, sustenance all the same. Biblically, the laws of kashrut were rather explicit, has scales, no kids in mothers’ milk, cloven hooves, well, there is a debate. How does it eat? The kosher laws were crafted initially as a code of conduct not for morality as we see it now, but about purity, cleanliness, safety. Keeping us alive.

Little was known almost 6,000 years ago about pathogens other than pigs in slop are not to be butchered and eaten. Trichinosis was widely known by the Egyptians as mummified remains had larvae enshrined with the bodies of the great ruling class, but wasn’t well documented until 1835 by Paget & Owen.  Another 25 years had to pass before scientists could

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Death by Sharpened Pencil

March 3, 2022

As winter has begun to subside (finally) the real flurry of activity has to happen in short time, as in an every ray of sunshine has to be captured kind of thrust into the growing season. This is also the poorest time you will see farmers as they dump their entire wealth into yet another growing season.

I can confirm; we’ve been running for a week straight and have committed the kids toothfairy money to compost, with no end in sight. My son will most likely want 25% interest compounded.

Last time I wrote about input costs, we focused on the monocrop, thousands of acres corn fields where we can see $400 per acre inputs is about where we come in at. We have had dangerously high inflation this past year with fertilizer and chemicals either

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Climate Change, Front and Center, Government Wrestles With Itself

February 23, 2022

We as a nation are seriously confronted by a changing environment that is leaving more rain in some spots, and less in others. To the west of the Powell Meridian, drought scorched plains, to the east, floods, washouts. In both, crop failure and societal pressure of devastating loss of both property and life.

Take for example a long term problem that has been exacerbated by the climate crises, the Yazoo River and it’s relationship with the Mississippi River delta, and the federal governments response.

This is a classic tale that takes us back to 80 years ago where the Army Corps. of Engineers identified an issue with the drainage of a specific part of the delta watershed. Dikes and levee systems that run all along the Gulf Coast do a great job

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The Frustration of Government Grants

February 16, 2022

There has been quite a lot of news over the past few years regarding agriculture specific to governmental assistance, from providing crop subsidies during the Trump Trade War to the Biden Administrations attempt to tamp down inflation via meat processing capacity increases, as well as an attempt to revive a few ideas that had been tabled by previous administrations. The largest focus for the USDA is without a doubt the SNAP food assistance program that feeds millions of impoverished American families each day. The second is the loan and grant programs, which have been getting more attention as of late. Grants are not all what they seem, and while they sound great to the general public, the actual conditions are a bit more seedy, and usually end up

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