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Michael Smith



Articles by Michael Smith

Cattle Market Reform Cannot Wait

October 19, 2022

Brett Crosby currently serves as Region IV Director for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, representing Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. He taps into the current trends in the beef market from a producer side, and I couldn’t have said it any better than he has in his opinion piece in Northern Ag Network. Here’s Brett:

A blog post published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on July 12, 2022, claimed that Congress is “rushing” to consider “aggressive legislation to regulate beef markets.”

Boy, if only that were true.

In February 2020, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) hosted its annual Cattle Producer’s Forum at the Public Auction Yards in Billings, Montana. It was there that a group of producers discussed the idea of reigniting a concept

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The WASDE Is Out, May the Kernels Fall Where They Will

October 12, 2022

USDA has now dropped the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates in the much awaited October reporting. In a simple one liner, here is the gist of it – lower soy and corn yields this year (drought and lack of fertilizer – we saw this one coming), but wheat supply down, but higher than last year. Wheat is essentially a weed and has conditional consideration mostly to weather and also if the crop was planted, looks like we’re ok here.

Here are the quick numbers to set the tone:

Wheat – downgraded 133 million bushels to 1,650 million total world stock, slightly above 2021 amounts

Corn – downgraded 49 million bushels to 13.895 billion bushels for US. Here is the kicker – total world tonnage is estimated at 301.2 million, down 3.3

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World Crop Quick Update

October 9, 2022

In this rare Sunday edition, just a quick update. We are nearing harvest close up north as the weather changes and nightly freezes make morning harvests a challenge for whatever goodies are still left on the stalks. I doubt much is left in the actual fields up north, but down south, second harvest has come up, mostly cotton, and some late planted sorghum that some folks planted after a dismal corn harvest, wild fires and drought have caused in come places catastrophic losses.

That being said, on Wednesday of this week the USDA will publish the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, or WASDE as you will hear row croppers and commodities traders refer to. Row croppers pour over this report and watch the basis and spread prices of grain

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We Really Need to Talk Fertilizer

October 6, 2022

Six billion.

I have written and rewritten the first line of this over and over and over again. Six billion. That is the amount of current US dollars American farmers have to come up with this year as fertilizer prices hit highs not seen since 2008, on top of higher prices last year. The difference is that in 2008 we had a financial meltdown, a run on energy markets, and global calamity. This year, we have supply crunches due to war, restrictions, and energy rationing, with the potential of a global financial meltdown. One thing holds true, fertilizer production is an energy intensive, dirty process that is far from green and as such, had been on the decline in the US. Had been; we might see a new found appetite soon enough, however, the costs are

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White House Looking at Food and Nutrition, But Will it Matter?

September 30, 2022

Any given recession, food assistance needs increase. In an inflationary environment where purchasing power declines, food assistance needs increase. During a pandemic, well you get the idea. What is lost in that narrative is that the foods available to the general public, are same available to food assistance beneficiaries. The only difference is the bank account that it’s draws through the debit card, and a few other stipulations like beer and cigarettes. Food assistance or SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program feeds roughly 40 million Americans, or over 10% of our population, and the numbers are rising, both in users and also costs.

The White House proposal is to label goods that are highly processed, contain excess sugars, and are

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Cattle Crystal Ball

September 22, 2022

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

September 20, 2022

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

September 15, 2022

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

September 13, 2022

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

September 8, 2022

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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