Friday, January 30, 2009

Look what I found

I found this manifesto that I wrote in October of last year attempting to give some perspective to the global issue of food prices and hopefully get some dialogue going. Alas I never put it up on here and it has languished on my jumpdrive for months. I really do not approve of the demonizing of corn, grain anything by the media or anyone else that has never had to make there living off the land. The most unsustainable thing about agricultural systems is that they are forced to feed 6-7 BILLION mouths

Ok, first I would like to address the concept of food as fuel in reference to the ongoing debate of how corn influences the price of other commodities. First, corn is not food. Corn has not been food for about 20 years. That does not mean that we do not consume corn, but rather that we use corn indirectly for many different things that happen to include food products. Rather, corn (No. 2 yellow dent corn, the most ubiquitous grain in the world) is a feedstock for cattle, swine, poultry, ethanol plants, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), corn starch, and thousands of other end uses. Corn does not sit around plotting how to make people fat, it does not conspire to influence market prices nor does it contribute to the decline of rural communities, it is just corn. Grain is the reason we stopped being hunter gatherers. It allowed us to stay in one location and know that we would have adequate food reserves to last the winter. It is the stuff civilizations are made of. It keeps for extended periods of time; it is portable, fermentable, and consumable.
In the last few years it has been in high demand as energy prices have climbed. As energy prices climbed it became more and more profitable to produce bio-fuels, and thus ethanol plants were able to spend more money to buy corn (enter the laws of supply and demand). This increased demand in the market meant that animal feeding operations were squeezed as far as how much corn they could afford to compete for in the open market. So many of the feeding operations turned to other grains to help formulate a balanced ration, thus creating greater demands for these other grains (wheat, soybeans, sorghum) which also helped drive up the costs of grains in general. So lets look at the changes in grain prices of a few different grains in the past year based on prices published in The NY Times Futures index (10-21-08).

Grain Current Price $/lb Lifetime High $/lb this year
Corn .07 .15
Wheat .10 .23
Rough Rice* .15 .22
Rough rice is un-hulled rice that is not fit for human consumption until it is milled thus adding to the cost of a staple food.
Based on Dec. delivery.

Think about those numbers… the past year we have seen commodity prices double and fall back down again. However, did we see the cost of a loaf of bread hit $6 dollars? No, bread stayed around $2.79 (here in KS) throughout the year. So what is the big deal?
Well, in nations that are classified as having extreme levels of malnutrition depend greatly upon whole grains like rice and sorghum for nourishment. These grains are consumed directly, and are not milled and turned into a value added product(bread). So while millers and bakers may have been able to adsorb the increase in wheat, in developing countries, the super poor (living on less than a dollar a day) are faced with the fact that their primary food product just doubled in price. It is not a pleasant situation. To get a good idea of how hunger changes spatially over time check this out.
The discussion about how our nation addresses hunger in other countries is best saved for another day (when we talk about farm programs). Bottom line, the costs of farm commodities have largely mirrored that of our crude oil over the past year.

Energy Current price Lifetime high(within last year)
Light Sweet Crude 74.39$/barrel 148.03
Heating oil 2.22$/gal 4.28
Natural Gas 7.21$/mm btu 14.54
So this begs the question, which went up first, the price of energy or the price of food commodities? There are a lot of different economists that have lots of initials after their last names that are arguing about this so I will let them sort this out. Just wanted to give you all some numbers and perspective before I jump in and start beating the bio-fuel drum.

Bio-fuels are nothing new. The prototype internal compression ignition engine that Rudolph Diesel designed ran on peanut oil. Pretty much any oilseed crop (soybeans, canola, peanuts, sesame, safflower, nuts etc) can be pressed for oil, and the resulting meal is generally fed to livestock or slathered on a loaf of bread, complimented by jam and a glass of milk (peanut butter). Bio-fuels from oilseed crops are a great way to make use of all of the parts of a grain. That is not to say that corn ethanol is not readily utilized, rather it is just not as simple and low tech as the pressing of oil seeds.
Now the idea of cellulosic ethanol has raised lots of questions as to how efficiently we can expect to produce a biological fuel in a previous article found here:
One of the quotes that I found rather disturbing was this one.
“Obviously, farmers benefit—if governments allow them to keep the gains. In America, the world's biggest agricultural exporter, net farm income this year will be $87 billion, 50% more than the average of the past ten years. The prairie farmers of the Midwest are looking forward to their Caribbean cruises.”
That statement is a little misleading, and I will tell you why. Over the last ten years grain prices have been extremely low. How low, you ask? I can remember selling old crop corn in 2004 for $1.50 per bushel. That means that then corn was selling for about 1/5th of this year high prices at that point in time. Needless to say, the early part of this century was not a good time to be in grain production regardless of whether or not you participated in federal farm programs (ie. Subsidies, which are whole nother can of worms).
Farming is not a guaranteed source of income. The only people complaining about high grain prices are those on salary, whose income is static year to year. Some years will be better than others. This year is going to be one of the years that pull a lot of producers up out of the red on the balance sheets. I had an Ag Econ. Professor tell me once that the greater the risk (of an investment), the greater the reward. This was when corn was $1.50, and I told him he was full of crap. Well, turns out he was right (Which is why he, Fayte Brewer, is the president of Purdue Alumni Seed Co.) Over the long term, farming is a very risky business, and I doubt that anyone that has ever had to sit across from a banker when grain was $1.50/bu and land payments were due will begrudge high grain prices.
From a soil fertility stand point I think that cellulosic ethanol has a place in American agriculture, however it also has the potential to defile our nations natural resources. High biomass crops like switchgrass, photoperiod sensitive sorghum, sweet sorghum, and even sugar cane, all remove huge amounts of phosphorus and potassium from the soil. Research that has been done here in KS indicates that up too 300 lbs of P and K can be removed per acre. If these nutrients are not replaced after cropping it is commonly referred to as nutrient mining. Nutrient mining is not such a big deal if there is an excess of the nutrient in the soil, however it is a problem if you are dealing with marginal land, like ground that was taken out of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program). An area that could benefit from this high level of nutrient removal is surrounding confined animal feeding operations (cattle feedlots, swine facilities, or poultry houses). Most states require these confined animal feeding operations to file a nutrient management plan to comply with currents laws (so they do not apply too much crap). One of the problems with this is that over long periods of time soil nutrient levels can reach excessive levels (>700 ppm) after long periods of manure applications and increase the risk of runoff and the entailing eutrophication. Cellulosic ethanol, with its high levels of nutrient removal can help to remove these excess levels of soil nutrients, however these crops still require large amounts of nutrients

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coon Dog confusion

This weekend Brutus went into coon dog mode. The only problem is that he kept treeing squirrels on our mountain bike ride.

The vermin in question.

Then we saw this on the drive home.

Both Brute and I felt a little better about ourselves after seeing that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SECA VS Amoeba

Well my beams shots really sucked, or perhaps its just my camera that sucks. Regardless I got no beam shots. However tanner and I did play around and compare the pros and cons of the SECA and the Amoeba.
SECA Pro's
700 lumens
multiple settings to prolong battery life. he only high beamed it twice on the ride
Has a strong spot beam and lots of good light spill
Has excellent heat sinks to keep the light cool.
Sometimes it took a while to cycle through the light sequences.
Was not very well thought out as a helmet light
Is kinda bulky.
is over 500 bucks
Tanner keeps his mounted on his handle bars.
I Kept mine mounted on my helmet.
Amoeba Pro's
520 lumens
Bright my Ameoba has primarily a spot pattern that seemed to throw light just as far as the SECA, and still has good light spill to the perimeter.
Relatively inexpensive
It has two modes: On and Off
The fact that it is helmet mounted gives my attention deficit disorder free reign at night.
It is probably not a good choice for a handlebar mount unless you went with a flood beam.
The reflective optics of the SECA are more user friendly and cast a better "shade of light"
We did kind of wonder about how the amoeba would dissipate heat without a great big heat sink, but as of yet I have not had the light head really heat up.
Bottom line:
If you want to see things a long way off, without any frills or excess weight, and be able to operate for extended periods of time the amoeba is the bomb. If you want one light that does everything well and has excellent "light quality" the SECA is what you need.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Amoeba....they're just little fella's

Whoa! This little thing is tiny. and bright. I am gonna grind some gravel road tonite with Tanner, who just got a new SECA so we will see how they compare

The reason that I went with Jay Buthmans product was that he uses non-proprietary batteries so a extra 3 hour Lithium ion battery only costs 40 bucks. Plus Jay made be a cool little back up power adapter so that if I ran out of juice I could use a 9 volt battery to get me back to the car. I will take the rest of the pics tonite and also get some beam shots.
I got a 520 lumen light with 9 hours of battery power, the quick charger, handy dandy power adapter for 9volt, and the mounting stuff for $310. Its pretty sick.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the Idaho Experience

We went to a mom and pop resort just north of Utah and I tried snowboarding for the first time. It was kind of hard. I was set up goofy, but am not goofy footed. Was kind of annoying

Us at Cathedral Pines north of Ketchum

Al on top of the bowls at Sun Valley with Hailey in the background

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wingnut Enduro

Brad introduced me to Wingnut several years ago as he had one of their smaller packs and I really liked how they sat real low on your back like a lumbar bag but less dumb looking.In the above pic you can see how the pack sits low in the silhouette.

The harness kind of drapes the pack low on your back and takes a lot of pressure off your hands and upper body.

The bag comes with a Hammer gel flaskthat is supposed to go in this pocket, but it is better serves as a pouch for my monstrous cellular device

What I threw into the bag to see how it carried itself. Typical of what I would carry on a remote all day MTB ride out west.
I really do like the thing pockets that are integrated into the hip belt. They are easier to access than jersey pockets and you can fit bulky objects into them. The insides of the pockets are also a bright orange color so you know that they are not fully closed if you see the bright colors

Note the handy access. Disclaimer: I only carry when I ride by myself in a area that I am not familiar with, where I am concerned with Yogi going for a little more than my pic-a-nic basket. I never carry when group riding.
The one thing that I am kinda wary about is the underarm routing of the hose for the ol hydration pouch. I guess since I am so used to the over arm routing inherent to camelbacks it will take some getting used to. The wingnut easily accepted my 3 liter camelback bladder.
All in all I am really pleased with this peice of equipment, and am looking forward to seeing how it handles some of this years enduro events.

Oh and the gravel glory ride is posted on the event blog
The Gravel Conspiracy
Hope to See You There.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Its been a slow week what with getting over the crud and readjusting to a period of no school. I have been on a bread making kick and have been trying my hand at more exotic breads. Came out OK.

I went on a mountainous bicycle ride Saturday to try out the strokers. Had a really good time and was riding my bike back to the shop so the brake job could be finished. the problem was that I could swear that there is a slanted transition from the street to the sidewalk right in front of Big Al's place of employment. Well there is no transition. I plowed into the curb at full speed and was thrown over my handlebars in front of a group of little old ladies. Rest assured there is no suave way to bounce back up after such a debacle. Feeling dumb and doing dumb things has become a favorite pastime for me. I bruised my hands pretty badly so looks like it will mean a few days off of the bike.

This afternoon Brutus, Al, and I went out to Dr. Mengels to cut firewood and so that brutus could chase and roll around amongst things.

I have also been in discussion with a couple players regarding hosting a endurance gravel ride that starts and ends in Manhattan for folks training for spring gravel grinders. It will be FREE.
However, we will accept donations to benefit the K-State Cycling program and off set the cost of the pizza, PBJ, pretzels, a can of coke, and other things that you start to crave in the middle of a long ride. Yes, it will be supported, we plan to have two aid stations since the route may not access any other sources of sustenance. No, it will not be sagged. I am looking at dates and thinking that april 11, 2009 would fit well for those that are plottin and planning for TIV to make sure that their gear is together and worthy for that great Iowegian endeavor. I was also thinking about pushing the date back (May 16?) for those training for the DK 200 which is a a more local event. Cornbread and I both agreed that the 1st weekend in April was out of the question since most of the midwest will be in Arkansas
SOOOO.... if there is a weekend that you really want to get out and grind some gravel....Lemme know. I will create a blog for this event once more details are ironed out.

Oh , this just in Al is rocking the trainer as we speak , and she commented on the sheer weirdness of my playlist in the ipod from the dirty kanza. Apparently Monster Magnet and Southern Culture on the Skids is not her style.