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Michael Smith



Articles by Michael Smith

Farming With a Tesla

13 days ago

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

19 days ago

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

27 days ago

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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Bird Flu Worsens, Threatening Food Supply

February 14, 2022

Bloomberg News reports an outbreak in Kentucky and Virginia after initial outbreak discovered at Indiana facility last week.

Avian flu is nothing new, and as we continue to keep large quantities of poultry in ever increasing numbers in concentrated operations around the poultry processors, the occurrences are likely to become more severe and often. This is mostly because commercial poultry operations look like this:

The amount of birds grown for two months in each coop can easily be 8,000 if not more. Each farm can have upward of 100,000 birds with a processing plant central to 10-20 farms, in what can equate to a million birds processed a month for one processing facility. The numbers are staggering.

The yin to the commercial yang is the

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The Trident that Killed Aphrodite: Communism, Corruption, and Conscience

February 4, 2022

Green groves feed the townspeople crafting their wares for the benefit of an enlightened populace, the amber fields of grain are milled for bread for the troops to keep our sovereign democracy intact. The greatest of civilizations are measured by the strength of their army, the complexity of the structures that they construct, yet history tends to gloss over the fuel that stokes the fires of the greatest civilizations, the tended lands that feed them.

Our sovereign democracy is under attack. The walls of Jericho need not be breached if the grain stores behind the walls are not properly stocked, or if foreign powers control the fields from which the grain is grown.

Communism

China is a cautionary tale of what competitive super powers do in

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A Tale of Two Freezes, One Year On

February 3, 2022

A quick note on the current state of affairs within the current Texas freeze, and the years worth of political nonsense that is the Texas Legislature.

The fine folks over at Space City Weather, do a great job of keeping the Houston metro area informed of weather conditions, but their two leads, Eric and Matt also look at the broad perspective and encompass weather related knock ons, such as the electric grid, or our beloved ERCOT. The Texas Tribune has been heavily investigating and reporting throughout the year on the original February ’21 storm Uri, and the political and commercial outcomes that have come from that deadly storm, or lack thereof.

So, now we are nearing the anniversary of one of the worst weather events and public utility

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Farm in a Square, Harvest in a Circle

January 26, 2022

All throughout the Midwest, Plains, pretty much anywhere that doesn’t get adequate rain you can look on Google maps and see square fields with bright green circles in the middle. These are pivot fields that are irrigated from aquifers below. The corners of those fields are usually left barren. No, these are not the corners I am referring to.

The square fields of corners I am referring to go back to biblical days.

Some years back I was having coffee with a Rabbi, as one does. He and I were deep into the discussion of tzedek, the Hebrew word for justice and also root for tzedakah, which means charity. Etemology is one of many favorite past times coupled with how we describe societal and behavioral constructs. The two concepts, justice and charity

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Swimming in a Pool Filled With Peanut Butter

January 22, 2022

American capitalism has an everpresent desire for increased profits. Over the course of history, corporations had increased profits largely due to increased population growth. As we have seen from new data coming from the 2020 Census, population growth is beginning to stabilize and flatten, yet corporations are still expected to perform regardless of market conditions, and if population growth is no longer the cosmic funnel of operating revenues, extracting rents like feudal lords is the next best thing.

I had stated in earlier posts that the Sherman Act wouldn’t be necessary, as the smaller producers could be that necessary competition, after much consideration and research amongst the community, there just isn’t time. The independent processors

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The Ethics and Economics of Farmers Markets

January 18, 2022

“I Quit”

Micheal Smith, The Ethics and Economics of Farmers Markets

It is early, frosty mornings such as these where I would love to sleep past 6am, enjoy a cup of tea, watch the news and think about what is on the ‘has to get done list’. 

These days I think about fence work, discing in compost and turning over weeds and then hitching up the kuelevator to hill up and top off planting rows for February planting. But alas, the market waits. This time, though, I quit. 

Farmers’ markets since the pandemic started have been exploding. As small independent grocers have gone under, regional shops deal with stock issues (still) and the continental spanning retailers deal with union walkouts, labor shortages as well as supply chain issues

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