It all stops here 1

As you know, I’ve been following the cotton crop for the past three years in the It All Starts Here series. This year, my plans were thwarted when the acreage was bought by another concern who decided to plant corn rather than cotton. Wahhh! Foiled, I thought the agricultural series was doomed but then I realized that the trend of rising prices for corn causing cotton acreage to shrink was important considering rising costs of energy.

First an update to the local field. It was being irrigated when I went by but Piporro and Juan were nowhere to be found. It was about 5:30PM so I imagine they were fetching dinner. I was pleased to see the new owner had invested in infrastructure updates. Up and down the length of the irrigation side of the plot, new water gates have been installed. A considerable expense, these were very nicely done.

Along with new gates, new berms to create water holding areas along the entire length of the field between the ditch and the field were built.

Have you ever built a berm? This is a tremendous amount of back breaking work requiring knee high boots (snakes), gloves (mice) and a shovel. You can’t get a full-sized back hoe in there, not once the field’s been watered (as it had been). I wish I’d known this new owner was so professional, I would have known to have taken a better “before” photo. The one below is from May 2007.

The photo above compared to the one above it is pretty dramatic. This new owner has done a lot. I’ll bet many have never realized a field could be repaired, mended or “remodeled”. As per recent trends, it’s likely that these investments will pay off. Considering the price of corn, I doubt this field will be growing cotton anytime soon.

Speaking of, while corn prices (and oil, not unrelated) has been trending upward for several years, the situation has become quite dramatic over the past several months. Other than prices at the gas pump, the most visible being the floods in Iowa. Iowa is the nation’s leader in corn production with millions of acres normally in cultivation. The problem is, it hasn’t stopped raining. NPR says that the governor has declared 88 of 93 counties as disaster areas. Perhaps you think all will be well once the waters recede. The problem is, some farmers have already planted -and lost- their corn crops twice and aren’t certain they can absorb the costs of a third planting. In just the past two weeks, commodities futures for the price of corn has escalated to $7.00 a bushel. While you’re not likely to see the effects of this anytime soon, you can count on even higher meat and dairy prices six months to a year from now. Maybe it’s a good time to transition to being a vegan? Even the New York Times says:

1. Forget the protein thing. Roughly simultaneously with your declaration that you’re cutting back on meat, someone will ask “How are you going to get enough protein?” The answer is “by being omnivorous.” Plants have protein, too; in fact, per calorie, many plants have more protein than meat. (For example, a cheeseburger contains 14.57 grams of protein in 286 calories, or about .05 grams of protein per calorie; a serving of spinach has 2.97 grams of protein in 23 calories, or .12 grams of protein per calorie; lentils have .07 grams per calorie.) By eating a variety, you can get all essential amino acids… Americans eat about twice as much as the 56 grams of daily protein recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (a guideline that some nutritionists think is too high).

Or maybe it’s time to grow your own vegetables?

Speaking of growing your own, the NYT isn’t the first to mention that consumer interest in gardening has skyrocketed. I would have expected that so I was surprised to learn seed companies were taken unaware. Seeds are in short supply.

Seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home…George C. Ball Jr., owner of the W. Atlee Burpee Company, said sales of vegetable and herb seeds and plants are up by 40 percent over last year, double the annual growth for the last five years. “You don’t see this kind of thing but once in a career,” he said. Mr. Ball offers half a dozen reasons for the phenomenon, some of which have been building for the last few years, like taste, health and food safety, plus concern, especially among young people, about global warming… “Food prices have spiked because of fuel prices and they redounded to the benefit of the garden,” Mr. Ball said. “People are driving less, taking fewer vacations, so there is more time to garden.”

Another interesting trend I heard anecdotally, some consumers think gardening isn’t sufficient as a cost cutting measure. In Portland OR, there was a story on the evening news about the increase in sewing due to financial concerns. What a switch. While many traditionally sewed to save money, it hasn’t been that way for at least fifteen years. Most people today sew for pleasure. I suppose it’s good news that more people are drawn to sewing regardless of the motivation for it.

Similarly, the fashion industry has been hit and hit hard. Fewer people are willing to pay the high prices of designer goods. Also a trend in the making, the uptick in resale and consignment stores has been dramatic.

Both merchants and consumers say that purging the closet and buying castoffs can be cleansing for the soul. “The whole idea of recycling and going green motivates some of our customers,” said Ms. Fluhr of Michael’s. “People are aware that Jimmy Choos fill landfills, too.” …Ms. Yun said she has grown increasingly sensitive to environmental issues. “Selling to resale shops becomes a platform to recycle,” she said. “Besides, I tell myself, ‘It’s obscene to have so much.’ ”

Idly, I’ve been bouncing ideas off friends…would there be appeal for coat sewing patterns come fall? I’m thinking of producing some for consumers. Interest in coat sewing seems to be on the upswing.

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  1. Elaine Good says:

    You said, “The problem is, some farmers have already planted -and lost- their corn crops twice and aren’t certain they can absorb the costs of a third planting.” And that is true. But the real reason to not plant a corn crop after the middle of June is that there aren’t enough heating degree days left in the growing season to bring the crop to maturity. Iowa is a lot further north than you! In some cases a soybean crop can be planted between now and early July, but it’s always questionable if there’ll be time to mature the beans.

  2. Valerie Burner says:

    I wonder if the buyout of the vegetable seeds has anything to do with the fact that Monsanto has been purchasing and patenting all the seeds it can possibly patent… These Genetically Modified plants have been “designed” to be sprayed with Roundup and other insecticides and pesticides several times a growing season… Farmers cannot reuse the seeds they purchased this year- and if some of the GM seeds end up in a neighbor’s field, they can be prosecuted and sued. 90% of the cotton crops in India have all but bankrupted many farmers because they can no longer afford the seeds and the chemicals it takes to grow these GM plants. These poor farmers drive their cotton to market on horse-drawn wagons. This is scary to me for many reasons- but if you would like to know more, research Monsanto or go to I try to buy as much organic stuff as I can possibly afford…

  3. Kathleen says:

    I wouldn’t think the seed buyout has anything to do with Monsanto directly but your comment gives me the opening to post a link to one of the most popular entries I ever wrote. It’s about the connection btwn “roundup ready” modified seeds and how an innocuous inert ingredient in it is killing all the fish -to say nothing of perhaps birds and bees.

  4. Jess says:

    I just got back from gardening for about 2 hours. One of the reasons I garden is for the exercise. I’m doing all heirloom varieties (from seed savers exchange) this year and also went completely veganic (no animal by-products used).

  5. /anne... says:

    If you’re going to use seeds, you should buy them from somewhere like Digger Seeds which sell heritage varieties. Not only do they taste better, but you can collect the seeds from your first crop and plant them the next year – free food! The seeds from hybrid varieties aren’t always fertile.

    I’d love to buy a properly-drafted Kathleen coat pattern – there’s not a lot of variety out there in Big 4 Land. There’s trenches, and princess coats – and that’s about it. I wanted to make a duffel coat; Burda had a great one a few years ago, one of their Tall Size patterns – beautifully detailed, classic lines – but they discontinued it before I could buy it. I’ve been looking on Ebay, but so far no luck. There are guy patterns, but I’m not guy-shaped :-). I’ve got a 50s English pattern drafting book that’s all outerwear – all those classic styled coats and jackets – but they expect you to know what they look like, so there are very few drawings of the completed garments.

    Oh, and proper instructions – my sewing books describe how to make a jacket, and just say coats are the same. Which seems unlikely – they’re at least twice as long, and in heavier material – a bit like saying a blouse is merely a light-weight jacket. I was just a bit too late to join the coat sew-a-long – can’t wait to read it all when it’s finished!

  6. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    Yes on coat patterns but probably not for me since I have more than 10 coats already.

    I wish I had a bigger yard to plant more stuff. Tomatoes from the store are so awful and the farmers’ markets here charge a lot for everything. I do have enough room for a few things. The strawberry plants already have sizable green berries on them. And my herbs are huge.

  7. Liana says:

    Another reason many won’t and/or can’t replant is that at this point, they can’t get seed. Short-season corn or bean seed is in very short supply, and even though it may have stopped raining, you can’t even walk across many fields yet, much less put a tractor and planter over them, and every day is one day closer to the first frost date.

  8. Teresia says:

    Here in the ever beautiful state of Oregon, growing vegetables is something most families do in the summer. Canning and freezing is another way to keep them for the Winter months. Another consideration is a food co-op which many communities have. We have one here in McMinnville, OR and there were a couple in Madison, WI when I lived there. Another shopping idea for the environment is buying bulk foods. I have bought bamboo fabric because of it anti-bacterial properties and recycled zippers from torn items and made storage bags for rice, flour, beans, etc. Not only is it more economical it is better for our environment to not have all the plastic waste. It take 1 quart of oil to make a plastic bag, when I think about that it makes me ill.

  9. Courtney Hipp says:

    I’ve been happy to see, in recent years, so many of the tobacco fields in my state (SC) planted in cotton instead. Your post makes me wonder if, on my next cross-state drive, I’ll see a lot of corn where the cotton used to be.

  10. Eric H says:

    The news is showing that “only” 15% of the soy and corn fields are under water, so perhaps not the magnitude of disaster one would think from seeing that 88/93 counties are under water.

  11. sfriedberg says:

    We will see what the final numbers are, but too much groundwater saturation can kill crops even if they aren’t literally under water. The magnitude of the flooding in the Midwest this year is staggering. (I come from Indiana and don’t remember anything this widespread in my lifetime.)

  12. Carla says:

    My husband and I just took a trip on I-20 through Louisiana. Where, for years, there have been enormous acres of cotton there is now corn. This is (or was) prime cotton country. It was easy to know why the farmers made the change, but I wonder where all of this is heading…

  13. Krisalee says: (a voice for eco-agriculture) has a very intersting article on it this month called Seed Barons (pdf). It is an interview with F. William Endahl who is a journalist who explains how Big Ag, Big Oil & Big Government are hijacking the world’s food supply and addresses the hidden agenda of genetic manipulation of our seeds. Our Doomsday Seed Vault in Spitsbergen (near the Artic Circle) is sponsored by gene giants that are promoting the patenting of life forms through GMOs – not innocently done. Many believe there is a much more sinister agenda to the genetically modified expansion of seeds around the world that means the ability to control vital elements of the human food chain; therefore the ability to control the people.

    Most Americans have no idea that they are eating genetically modified food. There are no FDA regulations that make them label it as such. Research done has shown that if we were to dedicate all American corn & soybean production acreage to biofuels, we would meet something like 12 percent of total gasoline needs. Because farmers are abandoning crop rotation, increased soil erosion calls for more chemical pesticides.

    Brazil just discovered a huge offshore field with billions of barrels of oil; equiv. to an Alasaka or North Sea oil discovery. There is no shortage of oil around the world so to be burning food a t a time when the world lacks nutrition….welll….read the article pdf).

  14. Anita says:

    I’ve planted a full garden this year for the first time in years. Part of it is because I’m working from home now (yay, no more commute!) and have more time to manage it. I’ve always put in a few tomato plants and even canned a few jars last year.

    I grew up with a garden and my family spent a solid week canning vegetables every fall, so it’s nothing new to me. I’m looking forward to doing some canning this year. I’m also going to stock my freezer with meats before prices get hit by the high costs of feed (corn is a big component in beef and chicken production) and transportation. I’m too much of a carnivore to go completely veggie :-)

    I won’t comment on the GM issue other than to say that I don’t believe that GM necessarily equates to “bad.” Most GM is done to produce hardier, more pest-tolerant plants and if it can help reduce how much pesticide gets used, that’s a good thing, IMHO.

    I also vote yes on the coat pattern. I’ve got some lovely wool and wool/cashmere just waiting to be made into coats.

    The increase in sewing is evident in the recent performance of JoAnn’s stock. They had better than expected results and the stock is performing better than it has in a while (I’m a closet CNBC junkie :-)

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