Tag: Agriculture

Biden’s Worst Cabinet Choice So Far

Biden has chosen Barack Obama’s Agriculture Secretary, Tom “Mr. Monsanto”* Vilsack (what a memable name) to reprise his role.

Given that his record as a lobbyist for big Ag, his steadfast refusal to address entrenched racism and sexual harassment in the Department of Agriculture in his last tenure, and his refusal to address anthropogenic climate change, there is a lot of outrage over this decision:

When President Barack Obama nominated Tom Vilsack, a two-term Iowa governor, to be secretary of agriculture in 2008, Vilsack was seen as a centrist who wouldn’t change much about how farming was done in America—for better or worse.


Fast forward to 2020, and Vilsack is poised to resume his role heading the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under President-elect Joe Biden, according to multiple outlets. This week, Vilsack emerged as a frontrunner ahead of two Democratic women: former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, who would have been the first Black woman to lead the agency.

The prospect was greeted with tepid enthusiasm by some and outright ire among others. Many in the food world, possibly eager to find something to praise, pointed to his previous stint in the job as a net positive, and proof he could hit the job running. Yet for environmental advocates, Black farmers, food safety champions, and critics of corporate agribusiness, a return to the status quo feels inadequate.


For many advocates of racial justice in the food system, Vilsack’s nomination is an affront that suggests the Biden administration has little interest in making the ag sector more equitable and remedying USDA’s notorious history of racial discrimination against Black farmers.

Much of the disappointment stems from both the agency’s practices under Vilsack’s watch and his own reported reluctance to repair the damage of systemic racism. As The Counter reported in a 2019 investigation, employees alleged that Vilsack’s USDA repeatedly ran out the statute of limitations clock on discrimination complaints, while attempting to foreclose on farmers whose cases hadn’t yet been resolved. Employees also said that USDA manipulated Census data to obscure a decline in Black farming, which in turn allowed Vilsack to paint a rosy but inaccurate picture of his tenure.

One particular scandal during Vilsack’s tenure stands out right now: the controversial ouster of Shirley Sherrod, a Black USDA official. Vilsack forced Sherrod to resign after the far-right website Breitbart disseminated a selectively edited video to suggest that she had discriminated against a white farmer. (After the full video came to light, Vilsack apologized for his treatment of Sherrod and reportedly offered to resign over the incident.)

I don’t blame Vilsack over this incident.

It’s clear that the cowardice and hypocrisy driving this incident came from Barack Obama, or those closest to him in the White House.


For women who have experienced sexual abuse while working for USDA’s Forest Service—an agency that employees say fostered a decades-long culture of sexual harassment—Vilsack’s nomination is a punch to the gut, according to Lesa Donnelly, former employee and current vice president of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees. Donnelly is a well-known advocate who has been calling on the agency to better protect employees from sexual abuse. According to her, Vilsack was part of the problem: He was “unwilling to investigate complaints properly and hold people accountable” during his tenure, Donnelly told news outlet Government Executive in 2016. The thought of his return to the agency is retraumatizing many of the women she advocates for, she told The Counter in an interview.


Numerous other organizations, including those representing Black farmers, have vocally opposed Vilsack’s nomination.


Indeed, rigorous environmental policies did not seem to be a priority for much of Vilsack’s term leading USDA. In one telling moment, then-Secretary Vilsack refused to take a stance on whether crop subsidies should be conditioned on farmers’ willingness to adopt basic conservation measures. “There were moments during his first tenure when Secretary Vilsack missed an opportunity to make the environment a priority,” said Scott Faber, vice president for governmental affairs at the Environmental Working Group, noting Vilsack’s unwillingness to challenge the status quo.

These aren’t the only Vilsack-supported policies that have raised eyebrows among environmentalists: He often boosted ethanol, a fuel additive that has long been unpopular with the green set because its production requires a lot of land and chemicals. He spent the past four years promoting dairy exports, indicating he’d be hesitant to back policies that curb production, such as limiting the construction of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As recently as 2014, Vilsack appeared eager to shift the conversation about the climate crisis away from agriculture. At an event at Drake University, he said that “agriculture tends to take the brunt of criticism about climate change, but the industry contributes only 9 percent of the greenhouse gases blamed for a warming planet.”


“It’s very important—essential—that USDA be vigorous and engaged, and that this not become a private-sector exercise, where carbon markets take over the conversation,” Deeble said. “We’ve got good programs at USDA right now that an ambitious secretary would be able to repurpose or modify slightly to get focused on climate change.”
On food safety, Vilsack “defaults to what the big companies want”

The Department of Agriculture doesn’t just regulate farmers. It’s also responsible for the safety of the meat, poultry, and eggs on our plates—roughly 20 percent of the American food supply. Consumer advocates contacted by The Counter say they don’t expect a Secretary Vilsack to do much more to keep that food clean and disease-free.

In his first tenure, Vilsack backed a proposal that would have allowed some chicken plants to dramatically increase line processing speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175. He also supported drastically reducing the number of USDA inspectors in plants, instead asking the companies to essentially police themselves.


It’s not just line speeds. When Vilsack was the head of USDA, his department rejected a petition to recognize some strains of antibiotic-resistant salmonella as adulterants, and make it illegal to process and sell meat and poultry that could sicken the public. A similar petition was submitted earlier this year—and Corrigan expects Vilsack, once again, to reject it.


Farm groups responded to Vilsack’s likely nomination with cautious optimism, noting the former secretary’s experience as a boon. “It is hard to argue with the fact that the USDA has been significantly eroded over the last four years in terms of research capacity and administrative capacity—it’s dropped down the rankings,” said Deeble of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Getting somebody who knows where all the switches and levers are is valuable if you want to fix that.”

Yet there’s reason for skepticism. At the beginning of President Obama’s first term, Vilsack embarked on a long listening tour to hear from small-scale farms about the impact of corporate consolidation within agriculture. The tour left many hopeful that the administration would overhaul regulations in the meatpacking industry and shift some market power back to small producers. Many years later, the administration advanced a watered-down version of the rules, which were then rolled back by the Trump administration.


Yet Vilsack spent the last four years as CEO for the U.S. Dairy Export Council, a group that represents some of the biggest dairy conglomerates which in turn hold a lot of sway over prices paid to small-scale farmers. Market control by the biggest player, critics argue, has been a contributing factor in the recent spate of small dairy failures. “Secretary Vilsack’s experience in the last four years does give us some cause for concern,” Stranz said. “But we also know, however, that as an administrator for a federal agency, he has the wherewithal and ability to work to advance policy goals that benefit farmers across the country.”


Some advocates hoped that the Biden administration would work to combat consolidation in agriculture and feel let down by Vilsack’s nomination. In particular, they take issue with his failure to prioritize policies that would have given farmers and ranchers more leverage with the industry’s meatpacking giants.

Take the Farmer Fair Practice rules—also known as the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rules—for example. As antitrust law advocates see it, Vilsack’s USDA dilly-dallied over the rules for too long, and by eventually introducing them in the final months of the Obama administration, it all but guaranteed that they would get axed by Trump. These rules would have made it easier for contract farmers to sue processors—who dictate almost all the terms of raising livestock—over unfair retaliation, such as terminating contracts of farmers who attempt to organize.


“He can’t work for industry if he’s governing the industry.”

Vilsack also accumulated fresh baggage in the last four years as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, an organization tasked with generating overseas demand for U.S. milk and milk products. Vilsack has drawn heat for taking a nearly $1 million salary from his job, at a time when dairy farmers have struggled with low prices and bankruptcies.


It’s also important to note that since the Export Council counts some of the largest dairy suppliers in the country among its members, including Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the nation’s biggest milk processor and cooperative. DFA has been the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging antitrust violations and price-fixing practices, which many dairy farmers say have led to declining revenue and even driven some out of business. Now, they’re worried that Vilsack’s affiliation could pose a “huge” conflict of interest should he be confirmed as secretary of agriculture again.


Ultimately, Vilsack’s record as agriculture secretary was spotty. He missed opportunities to prioritize environmental policies and backed off on reigning in monopolies in the meat industry. And his record on civil rights has only worsened since he left office, amid a steady trickle of revelations about his treatment of Black farmers and victims of sexual harassment. These failures have left deep scars—scars that are dealbreakers for some and, at minimum, caution flags for others.

This guy is a complete horror show, and epitomizes everything that was wrong, and corrupt with the Obama administration. 

Capitulation to corporate interests, partnering with entities who are the source of the party, and a steadfast push for market based solutions in the event of market failures.

Vilsack was bad in 2009.  He is even worse now.

*I’m not making this up. This what he is actually what called by his opponents.

You Know How Indian Workers Sometimes Beat Their Bosses to Death?

If the American workforce were less compliant, this would be happening at the Tyson pig processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, where managers had a betting pool as to how many employees would get Covid-19.

Honestly, it probably SHOULD be happening:

A wrongful death lawsuit tied to COVID-19 infections in a Waterloo pork processing plant alleges that during the initial stages of the pandemic, Tyson Foods ordered employees to report for work while supervisors privately wagered money on the number of workers who would be sickened by the deadly virus.

Earlier this year, the family of the late Isidro Fernandez sued the meatpacking company, alleging Fernandez was exposed to the coronavirus at the Waterloo plant where he worked. The lawsuit alleges Tyson Foods is guilty of a “willful and wanton disregard for workplace safety.”


Fernandez, who died on April 20, was one of at least five Waterloo plant employees who died of the virus. According to the Black Hawk County Health Department, more than 1,000 workers at the plant — over a third of the facility’s workforce — contracted the virus.

The lawsuit alleges that despite the uncontrolled spread of the virus at the plant, Tyson required its employees to work long hours in cramped conditions without providing the appropriate personal protective equipment and without ensuring workplace-safety measures were followed.

The lawsuit was recently amended and includes a number of new allegations against the company and plant officials. Among them:

  • In mid-April, around the time Black Hawk County Sherriff Tony Thompson visited the plant and reported the working conditions there “shook [him] to the core,” plant manager Tom Hart organized a cash-buy-in, winner-take-all, betting pool for supervisors and managers to wager how many plant employees would test positive for COVID-19.
  • John Casey, an upper-level manager at the plant, is alleged to have explicitly directed supervisors to ignore symptoms of COVID-19, telling them to show up to work even if they were exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Casey reportedly referred to COVID-19 as the “glorified flu” and told workers not to worry about it because “it’s not a big deal” and “everyone is going to get it.” On one occasion, Casey intercepted a sick supervisor who was on his way to be tested and ordered him to get back to work, saying, “We all have symptoms — you have a job to do.” After one employee vomited on the production line, managers reportedly allowed the man to continue working and then return to work the next day.
  • In late March or early April, as the pandemic spread across Iowa, managers at the Waterloo plant reportedly began avoiding the plant floor for fear of contracting the virus. As a result, they increasingly delegated managerial authority and responsibilities to low-level supervisors who had no management training or experience. The supervisors did not require truck drivers and subcontractors to have their temperatures checked before entering the plant.
  • In March and April, plant supervisors falsely denied the existence of any confirmed cases or positive tests for COVID-19 within the plant, and allegedly told workers they had a responsibility to keep working to ensure Americans didn’t go hungry as the result of a shutdown.
  • Tyson paid out $500 “thank you bonuses” to employees who turned up for every scheduled shift for three months — a policy decision that allegedly incentivized sick workers to continue reporting for work.
  • Tyson executives allegedly lobbied Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds for COVID-19 liability protections that would shield the company from lawsuits, and successfully lobbied the governor to declare that only the state government, not local governments, had the authority to close businesses in response to the pandemic.


The lawsuit claims that while Tyson has repeatedly claimed that its operations needed to remain open to feed America, the company increased its exports to China by 600% during the first quarter of 2020.

They didn’t care, because it wasn’t Wypipo at risk, it was “Mexicans”, and who cares if they die.

These people need to go to jail for a long, long time.

Justice for Me, but Not for Thee, Vegan Meat Edition

The rather ironically named No Evil Foods has embarked on a policy of targeting and firing pro-union employees:

No Evil Foods describes its mission as to “put more good into the world.” The North Carolina company started in 2014 when its owners and founders Mike Woliansky and Sadrah Schadel sold plant-based meat products out of a cooler at Asheville farmers markets. Since then, the company sells products with left-wing names like Comrade Cluck (a mock chicken product), the Pardon (a Thanksgiving-season turkey substitute), and El Zapatista, a vegan chorizo whose name is a nod to the revolutionary indigenous movement in southern Mexico.


But earlier this year, the company fought back a drive by employees to unionize its production facility in Weaverville under the United Food and Commercial Workers International union (UFCW).

The union lost handily in a February vote. Over a half dozen current and former employees who spoke with The Appeal described a hostile union-busting campaign, complete with frequent “captive audience” meetings—required meetings billed as “educational” sessions in which management effectively tries to kill organizing drives. Workers who spoke with The Appeal requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation from their bosses.


But a month after production worker Cortne Roche posted the petition online, several pro-union workers and others who had signed it were fired in rapid succession, workers say. Roche, who had been pro-union and helped organize the petition, was fired on April 30, the day after she was suspended for a dress code violation.

Roche and two other workers who’ve been fired in recent weeks told the Appeal that they believe their terminations were retaliatory. “I was told I was terminated immediately and there was no conversation about that,” Roche said. “I’m not stupid.” Roche said she’s filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board; the company currently has two open charges against it for alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act, both of which were filed earlier this month.

No Evil refused to answer specific questions about the firings, including the alleged use of “shadow write-ups”—writing employees up for violations without telling them, and then citing the violations in their firings.


But although No Evil Foods is a much smaller company than some of the meat-producing behemoths it hopes to turn people away from, workers and former workers whom The Appeal spoke with say it has betrayed its progressive branding in the times where it mattered most.

“It’s not in the interest of a company that exploits workers to give those workers any say in the company,” Roche said. “Even a vegan company called No Evil.”

What’s more, when the mandatory anti-union talks were leaked online, the company used bogus copyright challenges to suppress news reporting:

Earlier this year, the vegan-meat company No Evil Foods, which sells socialist-themed products at 5,500 grocery stores across the United States, including Whole Foods, fought a union drive at its Weaverville, North Carolina-plant.

The anti-union campaign led by No Evil Foods management featured a series of compulsory meetings, some of which were recorded by workers on their personal phones, portions of which were published in May by Motherboard and several other outlets, including In These Times, Industrial Worker, and the podcast Dixieland of the Proletariat.

Someone claiming to represent the company now appears to be trying to scrub the internet of these recordings by filing takedown requests on copyright and privacy grounds with the sites on which they’re hosted. Audio of the meeting has been deleted from YouTube, SoundCloud, and the podcast hosting platform LibSyn in recent days. A freelance journalist, Andrew Miller, who published the audio, had his personal website shut down by his web host HostGator on August 27. The takedown requests, several of which were viewed by Motherboard, claim that the speeches the company wrote are copyrighted. One video and four audio recordings—including two full-length podcast episodes that incorporate recordings of the meeting—have been flagged and removed from the internet.

No Evil Foods did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment, and the company blocked me on their official Twitter account. Emailed requests for comment sent to “rachel@noevilfoods.com,” the address that filed the complaints, were not returned. On Friday, LibSyn determined that one of the takedown requests was “fraudulent,” meaning that the person who filed it did not have a legitimate copyright claim, according to an email obtained by Motherboard. The episode of Dixieland of the Proletariat was restored because No Evil Foods did not respond to an inquiry about fraud from the podcast platform.

Motherboard spoke to copyright experts who said that under fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law, news outlets likely did not violate No Evil Foods’ copyright by publishing the audio recordings. In the United States, fair use allows the limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder specifically for the uses of news reporting and criticism.


In meetings recorded by workers and published by Motherboard and other outlets, which have since been taken off the internet, the company’s founders Mike Woliansky and Sadrah Schadel utilize standard anti-union talking points, warning their employees that a union would scare away investors, take away their rights, and drain their wages like a “sh%$ty gym membership that you just want to get out of.”


In early August, Motherboard received a notification from YouTube that a video of one of the speeches had received a privacy complaint. The video was subsequently removed; YouTube denied an appeal to leave it up. In recent weeks, SoundCloud has also removed audio of the speeches published by Motherboard and Industrial Worker, citing supposed copyright violations.

Each of the recordings was taken on workers’ personal devices in North Carolina, which requires the consent of only one present person in order to record audio.

In an email complaint to the podcast platform Libsyn about a version of the audio that appeared on In These Times’s Working People podcast on August 24, someone using the email address “rachel@noevilfoods.com” claimed that the recording was “Unauthorized” because it included contents “authored” by the two No Evil Foods founders and a hired consultant. The name on the email account is “Rachel Woliansky,” and Soundcloud told Industrial Worker that the inquiry came from “Rachel Woliansky.” (No Evil Foods’ CEO Mike Woliansky has a relative with the same name, according to a public database.) The email address Rachel@noevilfoods.com did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

“Each clip was authored by Mark McPeak, Sadrah Schadel, & Michael Woliansky of No Evil Foods, respectively,” the person in control of rachel@noevilfoods.com wrote. “I hereby state that I have a good faith belief that the disputed use of the copyrighted material is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”


Cory Doctorow, a prominent internet rights expert, activist, and science fiction author, said that companies and other actors have a strong interest in presenting unfavorable coverage as a copyright infringement.

“What if Harvey Weinstein had taken copious notes on his crimes, and then said he had a copyright right on them, and that you couldn’t publish them? This is news reportage and it’s in the public interest to know about it,” Doctorow said. “But there’s a strong interest in presenting this as copyright infringement.”


If you fancy yourself progressive, but that only applies when it does not cost you anything, you are not a progressive.  You are a hypocrite.

Slaughterhouses, AGAIN!

Not good

In Germany there has been a major Covid-19 outbreak at an abattoir, (I love the word, “Abattoir.” I need to use it more often) with over a thousand cases linked to the meat processing plant.

This has taken the R-Number,  the infection rate of an epidemic, from about .75 to 2.88, meaning that infections are growing again, not shrinking: (Any number over 1 indicates an increase in the number of cases)

The owners of Europe’s largest meat-processing plant must be held to account for a mass coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 1,500 of its workers, Germany’s labour minister has said.

Hubertus Heil said an entire region had been “taken hostage” by the factory’s failure to protect its employees, most of whom come from Romania and Bulgaria.

Germany’s coronavirus reproduction or R rate leapt to 2.88 over the weekend largely as a result of the outbreak at the plant at Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). About 7,000 people have been sent into quarantine as a result of the outbreak, and schools and kindergartens in the region that had been gradually reopened have been forced to close until at least after the summer holidays.

Health authorities have accused Tönnies, the family-run business that owns the plant, of breaking regulations around physical distancing that were introduced to dampen the spread of coronavirus. Authorities say Tönnies has also been reluctant to give them access to workers’ contact details, allegedly hampering the tracking and tracing of the workers and their contacts. Tönnies said delays in handing over personnel data had been due to Germany’s strict data protection laws.

Clemens Tönnies, the company’s billionaire CEO, held a press briefing at the weekend at which he apologised for his company’s management of the crisis, and said it would take “full responsibility” for what had to be done to combat it. Within his own family there have also reportedly been attempts to oust him from his role. He has ruled out resigning.

Of course he has ruled out resigning.

This is exactly the same sort of apology as was given by Volkswagen executives.

In New York, Corporate Farms are Failing, Family Farms are Thriving

It turns out that the Covid-19 food distribution disruptions in New York state are hammering large mono-culture farms, while family farms are thriving.

Once again, we see that financializing and corporatizing productive businesses ends up producing narrow and brittle business that cannot function during any significant disruption:

One Wednesday in early March, Abra Morawiec realized something seismic was happening at her farm stand. The month had been pretty quiet at the Feisty Acres table in the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. But that day, at the very start of social distancing, she had sold out of everything by 2 p.m.

“I had to go home three hours early,” Ms. Morawiec said. After wondering whether her small farm on the North Fork of Long Island would survive the pandemic, this was good news.

But the boom for Feisty Acres has coincided with a virtual collapse at large-scale operations like Crescent Duck Farm, also based on Long Island. In operation for more than a century, Crescent produces a million ducks a year — about 4 percent of the industry total — and was the supplier of choice for fine-dining restaurants in New York, including Jean-Georges and the River Cafe. Those restaurants are closed now, and Crescent has been forced to lay off 80 percent of its workers.

When the lockdown came to the metropolitan area, the earth shifted under New York’s farm-to-table supply chain. All farms are reckoning with the disappearance of the restaurant market and the logistics of getting food directly to consumers. But the agricultural landscape has completely reversed.

Farms with a single crop meant for use in restaurants, like microgreens or edible flowers, face disaster, while those with diverse offerings (and especially root vegetables) have become bulwarks of the social order. After decades of struggle to prove they are sustainable businesses, small farms seem to be flourishing, while factory farms, in many cases, find themselves too big to pivot.

Our corporate just in time economy is never going to support us when things go pear shaped.

OK, I Get Why Some People are Saying, “End of Times”

So in addition to a global pandemic with a virus that may not be amenable to a vaccine, we are now seeing an influx of giant killer hornets.

This is firmly in the area of things that give me the SERIOUS heebie jeebies:

Researchers and citizens in Washington state are on a careful hunt for invasive “murder hornets”, after the insect made its first appearance in the US.

The Asian giant hornet is the world’s largest and can kill humans. But it is most dangerous for the European honeybee, which is defenseless in the face of the hornet’s spiky mandibles, long stinger and potent venom.

Washington state verified four reports of Asian giant hornets in two north-western cities in December. The species becomes more active in April, prompting local officials to invite the public to help beekeepers by creating their own hornet traps.

“It’s a shockingly large hornet,” Todd Murray, Washington State University Extension entomologist and invasive species specialist, said in a statement. “It’s a health hazard, and more importantly, a significant predator of honeybees.”

Excuse me while I try to stop shaking like a leaf.

We are Screwed

The Covid-19 pandemic has interfered with the shipment of many types of products.

One I had not considered was the commercial movement of bee hives to pollinate crops, and right now this business is shut down, which means that many crops, most fruits and nuts and many vegetables, are likely not to be pollinated this year.

Lockdowns, quarantine requirements and border closures introduced in recent weeks around the world to slow the coronavirus pandemic are threatening to hit food production by limiting the movement of bees, agriculturalists have warned.

Farmers around the world growing fruits, vegetables and nuts rely on bees to pollinate their crops. In many cases bees are trucked through agricultural areas, rather than staying local to one area — but now they cannot travel.

“A third of our food depends on the pollination by bees. The production of those crops could be affected,” said Norberto Garcia of Apimondia, the international federation of beekeepers.

In the US, honey bees gather pollen and nectar from plants including berries, melons, broccoli and almonds, pollinating $15bn worth of crops every year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

This is going to be a complete cluster-f%$#.

Never Let a Crisis go Unexploited

It now appears that the Trump administration is looking to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to lower agricultural wages.

It is contemptible, but using an emergency as an excuse to shaft the most vulnerable in society is Republican Party 101:

New White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to see how to reduce wage rates for foreign guest workers on American farms, in order to help U.S. farmers struggling during the coronavirus, according to U.S. officials and sources familiar with the plans.


The measure is the latest effort being pushed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help U.S farmers who say they are struggling amid disruptions in the agricultural supply chain compounded by the outbreak; the industry was already hurting because of President Trump’s tariff war with China.


The nation’s roughly 2.5 million agricultural laborers have been officially declared “essential workers” as the administration seeks to ensure that Americans have food to eat and that U.S. grocery stores remain stocked. Workers on the H-2A seasonal guest-worker program are about 10% of all farmworkers.


The most recent push to lower wage rates for workers on H-2A visas has drawn pushback from some strange bedfellows: immigrant-rights advocates and immigration hard-liners usually aligned with Trump.


It’s unclear how the reforms would be made, including whether they would be taken through executive action or through the federal regulatory process. But Perdue has pushed for adjusting what is known as the adverse effect wage rate, which prevents farmers using the H-2A program from paying all workers — U.S. and guest workers — wages below the prevailing rates in the surrounding area.

Earlier this year, Perdue said the adverse wage rate has set almost a $15 minimum wage for agriculture, noting “no other business in the country has that,” according to the agriculture trade journal DTN.

The “adverse effect wage rates” are based on a USDA survey of what agricultural workers are paid in each state. It’s $11.71 in Florida, $12.67 in North Carolina and $14.77 in California.

Evil is as evil does, I guess.

Rule 1 of Monsanto, Monsanto is Evil

Rule 2 of Monsanto is SEE RULE 1.

After creating a plague of Roundup resistant weeds, Monsanto decided to double down on Dicamba, which had the effect of KNOWINGLY poisoning neighboring farmers’ crops, if they did not pay for Monsanto’s own genetically modified crops:

The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show.

Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer.

The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators.


The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba.


The companies said they would make new dicamba formulations that would stay where they were sprayed and would not volatilize as older versions of dicamba were believed to do. With good training, special nozzles, buffer zones and other “stewardship” practices, the companies assured regulators and farmers that the new system would bring “really good farmer-friendly formulations to the marketplace”.

But in private meetings dating back to 2009, records show agricultural experts warned that the plan to develop a dicamba-tolerant system could have catastrophic consequences. The experts told Monsanto that farmers were likely to spray old volatile versions of dicamba on the new dicamba-tolerant crops and even new versions were still likely to be volatile enough to move away from the special cotton and soybean fields on to crops growing on other farms.

Why did Monsanto do something so evil, beyond the fact that they are one step away from having a white Persian cat?

Because we allow companies to patent crops, and prevent farmers from replanting crops, and so we create an incentive to sabotage people into buying their (very) pricey seed.

This sh%$ is criminogenic, and for the life of me I do not understand how this does not constitute a criminal conspiracy under the RICO statutes.

Agriculture’s Amazing High Tech Future

In yet another example of why Congress should pass right to repair legislation, farmers in the Midwest are engaging in bidding wars over 40 year old tractors because they are not locked out of fixings them by the manufacturers:

Kris Folland grows corn, wheat and soybeans and raises cattle on 2,000 acres near Halma in the northwest corner of Minnesota, so his operation is far from small. But when he last bought a new tractor, he opted for an old one — a 1979 John Deere 4440.

He retrofitted it with automatic steering guided by satellite, and he and his kids can use the tractor to feed cows, plant fields and run a grain auger. The best thing? The tractor cost $18,000, compared to upward of $150,000 for a new tractor. And Folland doesn’t need a computer to repair it.

“This is still a really good tractor,” said Folland, who owns two other tractors built before 1982.

“They cost a fraction of the price, and then the operating costs are much less because they’re so much easier to fix,” he said.

Tractors manufactured in the late 1970s and 1980s are some of the hottest items in farm auctions across the Midwest these days — and it’s not because they’re antiques.


The other big draw of the older tractors is their lack of complex technology. Farmers prefer to fix what they can on the spot, or take it to their mechanic and not have to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

“The newer machines, any time something breaks, you’ve got to have a computer to fix it,” Stock said.

There are some good things about the software in newer machines, said Peterson. The dealer will get a warning if something is about to break and can contact the farmer ahead of time to nip the problem in the bud. But if something does break, the farmer is powerless, stuck in the field waiting for a service truck from the dealership to come out to their farm and charge up to $150 per hour for labor.

I’m seriously beginning to think that every innovation introduced since the Reagan administration has just been a scam.

Missing the Point

Over at The Nation, they are wringing their hands over how the recent collapse of coffee prices are devastating small farmers all over the world.

The problem is not the vicissitudes of coffee prices.

The problem is that, as a result of trade policies from the United States and the EU, farmers are forced to move away from growing staples to growing cash crops, which makes those farmers lives even more precarious, because they are subject to the whims of the market, and they cannot eat what they grow.

So they starve, or they are forced to sell their farms.

The problem is heavily subsidized US and EU agricultural products flood their markets, and force them to abandon the production of food crops.

That Gonna Change the World Thing………

We know that MIT Media Lab, and the entire senior management of MIT, conspired to keep donations from Jeffrey Epstein.

In the ensuing furor, one has to wonder what they could possibly do to make themselves even more toxic.

I mean, it would have to be something really bad, like illegally dumping toxic waste down the public sewers, which they also did:

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab have dumped wastewater underground in apparent violation of a state environmental regulation, according to documents and interviews, potentially endangering local waterways in and near the town of Middleton.

Nitrogen levels from the lab’s wastewater registered more than 20 times above the legal limit, according to documents provided by a former Media Lab employee. When water contains large amounts of nitrogen, it can kill fish and deprive infants of oxygen.

Nine months ago, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection began asking questions, but MIT’s health and safety office failed to provide the required water quality reports, according to documents obtained by ProPublica and WBUR. This triggered an ongoing state investigation.

After ProPublica and WBUR contacted MIT for comment, an institute official said the lab in question was pausing its operations while the university and regulators worked on a solution. Tony Sharon, an MIT deputy vice president who oversees the health and safety office, didn’t comment on the specific events described in the documents.


The lab responsible for the dumping is the Open Agriculture Initiative, one of many research projects at the Media Lab. Led by principal research scientist Caleb Harper, who was trained as an architect, the initiative has been under fire for overhyping its “food computers”: boxes that could supposedly be programmed to grow crops, but allegedly didn’t work as promised.

Throughout early 2018, the lab’s research site in Middleton, about 20 miles north of the main MIT campus in Cambridge, routinely drained hundreds of gallons of water with nitrogen into an underground disposal well, at concentrations much higher than the lab’s permit allowed, according to documents and interviews. The nitrogen came from a fertilizer mix used to grow plants hydroponically.

This is what happens when you create an institution, like Media Lab, where the principals believe that they are a priori virtuous people who are saving the world.

Also:  What the f%$# does hydroponics have to do with media?

Ban Antibiotic Use on Livestock

Meat without antibiotics is a bit more expensive, on the order of 5-10¢ a pound, (the Danes banned antibiotics, so we have good cost data( but that is a reasonable price to secure the public health:

A deadly outbreak of multi-drug resistant Salmonella that sickened 225 people across the US beginning in 2018 may have been spurred by a sharp rise in the use of certain antibiotics in cows a year earlier, infectious disease investigators reported this week.

From June 2018 to March of 2019, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified an outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport. The strain was resistant to several antibiotics, most notably azithromycin—a recommended treatment for Salmonella enterica infections. Before the outbreak, azithromycin-resistance in this germ was exceedingly rare. In fact, it was only first seen in the US in 2016.

Yet in the 2018-2019 outbreak, it reached at least 225 people in 32 states. Of those sickened, at least 60 were hospitalized and two died. (Researchers didn’t have complete health data on everyone sickened in the outbreak.)


The investigators suggest that the surge in macrolide use could have encouraged the rise and spread of the azithromycin-resistant Newport strain.

“Because use of antibiotics in livestock can cause selection of resistant strains, the reported 41% rise in macrolide use in US cattle from 2016 to 2017 might have accelerated carriage of the outbreak strain among US cattle,” they wrote.


In recent years, around 70% of all medically important antibiotics in the US have been sold for use in animals. Public health advocates say agricultural use of antibiotics should be reduced significantly to preserve the effectiveness of the drugs.

It is completely insane to allow farmers to destroy our public health system for a few pennies.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whey*

A UK dairy in Yorkshire has signed an agreement with a local biogas plant to supply it with a by-product of cheese-making that would be turned into thermal power to heat homes in the area.

The Wensleydale Creamery, which produces the Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, makes 4,000 tons of cheese every year at its dairy in Hawes in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

The company has struck a deal with specialist environment fund manager Iona Capital, under which an Iona biogas plant will produce more than 10,000 MWh of energy per year from whey—a by-product of cheese making, Wensleydale Creamery said on Monday.

Under the deal, Wensleydale Creamery will provide Iona Capital’s Leeming Biogas plant in North Yorkshire with leftover whey from the process of cheese making. The plant will process and turn the whey into “green gas” via anaerobic digestion that will produce thermal power sufficient to heat 800 homes a year.


“Once we have converted the cheese by-product supplied by Wensleydale into sustainable green gas, we can feed what’s left at the end of the process onto neighbouring farmland to improve local topsoil quality. This shows the real impact of the circular economy and the part intelligent investment can play in reducing our CO2 emissions,” Mike Dunn, co-founder of Iona, said in a statement.

This is the right thing to do, but mostly, I’m here for the puns.

*Yes, I am posting this just for that pun.

As if There Wasn’t Enough Political Sh%$ Going Down in Iowa

It also appears that the state is drowning in literal pig excrement as well:

It’s probably not an accomplishment state officials will want to boast about, but Iowa out-performs the rest of the country when it comes to producing sh%$. Not “sh%$” in any metaphorical sense, but literal fecal waste.

Chris Jones, a research engineer and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Iowa, IIHR (UI’s hydroscience and engineering center), has done the math, and published the results on his blog about water quality. Iowa, with a population of 3.2 million, produces more than twice the amount of fecal waste per square mile than California, which has almost 40 million people.

But what’s propelled Iowa to the top of the sh%$ list isn’t people, it’s pigs.

Last year, Iowa hit “peak pig,” with 23.6 million pigs, the most ever recorded in any state. When Iowa set that record in August, North Carolina, the state that ranks second in swine, only had 9.4 million. And pigs, Jones explained on his blog, produce much more waste than humans.

(%$ mine)

Between the chickensh%$ politics of the caucuses, and the real sh%$ of the pigs, I do not want to be downwind of the state.

Rather ironically, this actually mirrors a Will Rogers quip regarding the juxtaposition of the Chicago stockyards and the Democratic Convention made many years ago.

Slowing Economy + Rising Food Prices = Civil Unrest

This is a literally recipe for rioting in the streets.

Business is normally bustling at the sprawling Xinfandi produce market in southern Beijing, where stores, restaurants and thrifty shoppers buy their fruits and vegetables in bulk.

But more apple sellers were napping than hustling one recent afternoon. The price of apples had nearly doubled, to roughly $1 per pound, and people were spending their money elsewhere.


Already grappling with a slowing economy and President Trump’s trade war, Beijing now has to worry about the rising price of food. It is not just apples. Other fruits and vegetables are more expensive. The price of pork has jumped as the country deals with a devastating swine fever epidemic. Chicken, beef and lamb prices have been creeping up, too.

When juxtaposed with the current tit-for-tat on tariffs, where the Chinese have placed taxes on American agricultural products, this is a heady mix.

Well, That’s Very White of You

I just came across an article suggesting that the Jewish practice of Shmita could save sustainable architecture.

For those not up on obscure biblical laws, it is the requirement for a field to lie fallow once every 7 years.

When all is said and done, allowing fields to lie fallow, and thus allowing the soil to rest is a good idea.

My problem is not that it’s a just a Jewish idea.

It has been practiced almost universally around the world since the introduction of agriculture by almost every farming society until the advent of modern fertilizer technology.

The idea that this is some sort of uniquely Jewish (and by implication “white”) secret is bullsh%$.

My Heart Bleeds Borscht

Bayer is now facing major blow-back over from its acquisition of Monsanto.

Evil is as evil does:

Bayer insists that glyphosate-based weedkillers like its Roundup and Ranger Pro products pose no health risk to the farm workers and gardeners who use them around the world. For one particular group of people, however, the substance has proven highly toxic: Bayer’s own shareholders.

Shares in the German pharmaceuticals and chemicals group took another plunge on Wednesday, after a San Francisco jury found that there was a direct causal link between glyphosate and cancer. The product in question was Roundup, the weedkiller acquired by Bayer as part of its $63bn takeover of US seeds and chemicals giant Monsanto last year.

The latest legal setback appeared to take investors by surprise, sending Bayer shares down more than 10 per cent. Since last August, when another California jury ordered Bayer to pay $289m in damages in a similar case, the group’s shares have fallen by more than a third — wiping almost €25bn from its market value. As they contemplate the ever-growing list of glyphosate cases pending in US courts — 11,200 at the latest count — investors have every reason to feel glum.

If you lie with dogs, you get up with fleas, and those glum investors are getting what they deserve.