Monday, May 22, 2017

Yra Harris on Futures Radio and China's Imprint on Commodities

Some insight from Yra Harris on Futures Radio with Anthony Crudele:

Somewhat paraphrasing:

"If I told you you would have massive carryovers of soybean stocks;  Brazil, Agentina, U.S. record crops, and soybean prices were still $9.30/$9.40/$9.50 you would tell me I'm out of my freaking mind. These are times we would be having $4.50-$4.80 beans. That is the dynamic that China has brought to global grain markets."


Wild Kratts- A children's lesson for food marketers

I by chance caught an episode (note: not something I normally watch) of the children's show Wild Kratt's and was really surprised at the dialogue. I caught the following line:

"As long as people think pangolin scales are healthy I'm selling"

 I wonder if Chipotle or the Food Babe have seen it?

Here is a link to the program. You get the message in the first couple of minutes:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Science Vs. Podcast on Organic Food

Episode #5 of the Science vs. podcast addressed organic food. Very well done. And they actually talk with real organic farmers, some of which are a little disturbed by the myths surrounding organic, from the intro:

"It’s an epic three-way battle this week — organic vs conventional vs …science. Three out of every four American grocery stores sell organic products, but what are you really getting when you buy them? Better taste? Fewer toxic chemicals? A cleaner environment? Farmers Mark, Andy, and Brian Reeves, nutritional epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Bradbury, Prof. Cynthia Curl, and Prof. Navin Ramankutty help us sort it all out."

One thing that is brought up is that the manure used in organic food production may not have came from 'organic' livestock operations. This is an important point Jayson Lusk mentioned previously:

"Indeed, if one wants large scale organic, it almost certainly implies (given the current population) the need for large scale non-organic.  All that life-supporting nitrogen has to come from somewhere.  Until we find a better way, right now it is coming from Haber and Bosch and is smuggled into organic agriculture via animal manure. "

Not to mention the positive exernalities (i.e. benefits) that biotech provides non-biotech producers in terms of pest protection- see here.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Self driving cars in a rent seeking society

"If every car on the road carried that kind of capability, which can keep the car in its lane and a safe distance from other vehicles in simple settings like highways, fatal crashes would drop by 80 percent"

While the public is praising this wonderful technology I'm sure progressives are already thinking of mandates and regulations to make cars even more unaffordable (read regressive-progressive) and the special interests and rent seekers have open arms with a mouth watering embrace.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What Happened at Cargill?

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about an EconTalk podcast with Cargill's former Greg Page:

Here is a quote from the interview:

"I think if our water is precious, if our topsoil is precious, if we really care about the hydrocarbon footprint that we have in terms of the amount of cultivation that we need to carry out, that we should think very carefully about eliminating or demonizing genetic engineering."

But this past week I ran across an unfortunate tweet via  @VanceCrowe that caught a lot of attention. This relates to a collaboration with the Non-GMO Project. Many people have pointed out that the Non-GMO project is involved in more than just verification of the sourcing of ingredients. There is an underlying agenda that is inherently anti-GMO and anti-agriculture across a number of dimensions.
How did this happen? There is surely a garden of forking paths we could go down if we give Cargill the benefit of the doubt or try to offer criticisms about how this should have been handled (assuming they were hell bent on making this deal to start with). Maybe I understand how there is definitely money to be made with a niche market carved out by snake oil fear based marketing by shady food companies that has helped drive demand for non-GMO products. But surely someone that knows the industry like Cargill knew that if they were going to sign a deal with the devil (surely they knew that is how it would be viewed industry wide) that they should have a well thought out PR strategy first to keep it as low key as possible and 2nd an immediate response at hand in case things got out of control. I'm not advocating they be sneaky and shady but definitely should have had a well calibrated communication strategy ready for this kind of deal. Right?

So assuming this is understood from the top down that means not every tweet that goes out is super-scrutinized because if it were I doubt anyone at Cargill would have thought tweeting about this was a good idea. So maybe some of the people in social media have the leeway to tweet about new deals and ventures and collaborations as if it is something to be proud of. Maybe not everyone in a large organization like this has the solid 360 degree view of the industry you would expect. But that is OK to have different talent with different backgrounds and ideas across a large organization. If this is what happened I think they need to look internally at onboarding and education about the industry as a whole.

But if this is not what happened, if leadership was full force in favor of making this deal in your face public via social media outlets in this way what were they thinking? Surely someone in the company knew better and warned against it but they went forward anyway?

Maybe its just easy for me to be a monday morning quarterback or back seat driver on this but this whole thing is surprising given the lessons learned already from companies like Yellow Tail and Chipotle.
With more thought what alarms me is perhaps the public ignorance and level of anti-science fear mongering has crossed a critical threshold and emboldened a great company like Cargill to take the calculated risk in this kind of partnership...even to the point of tweeting about it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Harvard Public Health Alternative Facts Debunked, Organic Food, and Neonics

Apparently Harvard School of Public Health is not immune to alternative facts-when it comes to one associated researcher's influence on recommendations about organic food vs conventional: HT -Kevin Folta: 

Are there yield differences between organic and conventional crops?  Research in 2012 asks some important questions with findings realted to this: 

More recently from PNAS:

We get a synopses of this from the GLP:

"Recent meta-analyses of plot-scale studies suggest organic yield penalties of 20–25% on average, although possibly as low as 8%. Farmer surveys, on the other hand, report organic grain yield penalties of 27–34%."

Jayson Lusk recently pointed out that making large scale organic work (i.e. read if we want more access to organic food that means 'large scale') we need large scale conventional producers:

"Indeed, if one wants large scale organic, it almost certainly implies (given the current population) the need for large scale non-organic.  All that life-supporting nitrogen has to come from somewhere.  Until we find a better way, right now it is coming from Haber and Bosch and is smuggled into organic agriculture via animal manure. "

So organic thrives on positive externalities related to N use in conventional production. 

Let's not forget the positive externalities of biotech traits....which not only help conventional producers use fewer pesticides but also help organic producers get by without sytnthetics:

Positive Externalities of Biotech Bt Traits on Non-Biotech Crops and Non Target Insects 

On another note From the WSJ, Why the EU should revoke neonicotinoid pesticide ban.