Why Don’t Iowa Farmers Export More to Europe?

Sundog Farm

During a brief appearance at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta on July 26, President Trump claimed a trade breakthrough with European allies.

“We just opened up Europe for you,” he said.

Not so fast!

On Saturday, European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who met with Trump, said trade talks almost collapsed over U.S. agricultural demands.

Agricultural trade will remain off the table in any trade talks between the U.S. and EU, Juncker said, according to Deutsche Welle. A European commitment to buy more U.S. soybeans is driven by market conditions.

Europe is the second largest importer of soybeans after China and prices are low because of the U.S. trade war with China. In other words, after market conditions driven by the president beat the price of soybeans down, Europe sees a bargain. It is hard to fathom how Trump sees Europe “opened up” under these conditions. Granted Iowa farmers planted more acres in soybeans this year, but the president’s statement can only be seen as political posturing in advance of the 2018 midterm elections and everyone should know it.

There is a more significant problem with “opening up” Europe for agricultural trade — the issue of genetically modified organisms.

There are very few genetically modified crops grown in Europe compared to the U.S., according to a July 27 New York Times article. The reason is in 2001, the EU issued a directive about GMOs. From the early stages of research to the marketplace, these products would have to pass a series of tests for environmental risks and human safety. The consequence of the directive in Europe is few farmers produce GMO crops.

In the U.S., neither the USDA nor the National Academy of Sciences is concerned that GMO crops have any impact on consumers different from non-GMO crops, despite a slate of regulations. Driven by science, farmers embrace GMO crops because of their acceptance in the U.S. marketplace combined with the attributes of genetically modified seeds. Regardless of science, increasing the amount of GMO crops exported to Europe seems unlikely given the fact many European countries have banned GMOs.

Shorter version of Trump’s statement, “Farmers, here’s a bone.”

It’s hard to see how help for Iowa farmers will materialize from current discussions with Europe. The irony of increased soybean sales to Europe after Trump’s trade war beat down prices as something positive seems lost on his true believers. They may swallow this hook, line and sinker, but other sentient beings should not. It is another deception from a president with an unending supply of deceit.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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Helsinki and New START

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

I don’t know one person, acquaintance or public figure who thought the July 16 meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki went well.

The only people who found a ray of hope in the awkward encounter are those in the arms control community who pointed out some positives, not the least of which is an easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers evidenced in the meeting.

“It looks like Trump and Putin may have agreed in Helsinki to resume strategic stability talks.” Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, posted on twitter. “One key issue: New START, which can be extended without complex negotiation, without further approval by Senate or Duma, and without Trump making unwise concessions.”

Such a move makes sense and would be an easy win for Trump. It may not be well received among Trump’s base supporters because, after all, the Obama administration negotiated New START. The 44th president called in his markers to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty. Some of us felt he gave away too much with a complex offering of perquisites to Republican hawks led by Jon Kyl. Not the least of these was an expensive, unneeded modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex. The Trump crowd won’t like it, regardless of the efficacy of an extension, because of the association with President Barack Obama.

Republicans have expressed disappointment with Trump’s foreign policy, such as it exists. They may (publicly or privately) attempt to reign in the president. At some point the U.S. wants to address perceived Russian violations of the INF treaty negotiated between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, signed in 1987. Russia has threatened to withdraw from the INF treaty for many years, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

As we look forward with trepidation to the next meeting between the two heads of state, the arms control community will be working to advance the causes of nuclear disarmament and abolition. It is something they do regardless which party has majorities in the Congress or who is president.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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Making Applesauce

Applesauce Made With Viking and Dolgo Crab apples

I asked our chief apple officer the following question:

“If I wanted to win a blue ribbon for making applesauce at the state fair which apples, available now, would I use?”

His answer was straightforward.

“Use Viking because it’s one of the best for sauce. Plus no one else at the fair would have that variety.”

I took home six each Viking and Dolgo Crab apples after work. This morning I made applesauce with them.

The Dolgo Crab apples were for flavoring, but may not have been needed.The pink sauce produced was tart and delicious… and that’s no apple joke.

Now that the experiment produced a successful result, it’s time to go big with a lot more apples.

It’s part of living in the seasons of local food.

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Rise of Nuclear Power was a Bad Idea

In a broader perspective, the rise of nuclear power was a bad idea. It always required substantial government subsidies, and there is no solution for handling spent fuel rods and radioactive equipment. If there is a disaster like Fukushima Daiichi was in 2011, there is no recovery from it years later.

On Friday major news outlets reported Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo will cease electricity production in late 2020. Duane Arnold, owned by NextEra Energy Resources, is Iowa’s only nuclear power generating station.

Alliant Energy, the utility’s only remaining customer, entered an agreement with NextEra to cease operations five years earlier than planned.

The declining cost of other forms of energy led to the decision, according to NextEra spokesperson Peter Robbins in a Radio Iowa article.

“You are just seeing continued pressure on all sources of energy — from renewables and from natural gas — and we are certainly seeing that in the market place in Iowa,” Robbins said.

NextEra plans to invest in existing and new renewables generation across Iowa before the end of 2020, according to the article. Alliant Energy said it will save customers nearly $300 million in the next 21 years by switching away from the use of the nuclear power.

Duane Arnold’s fate reflects the general decline in nuclear power in the United States. While some, like retired scientist James Hansen and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, point to nuclear power as a potential way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in electricity generation, it is just too expensive. Georgia Power remains the only company in the United States attempting to build new nuclear reactors. The construction at the Alvin W. Vogtle generating station near Augusta, Georgia has been plagued by delays and cost overruns endemic to the industry. The two plants may never be completed.

On June 1, President Trump directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take immediate steps to keep both coal and nuclear power plants running as a matter of national security. If the U.S. exits the nuclear power generation business there could be repercussions in ceding technological advancements to China and Russia. It could weaken existing nonproliferation standards if the U.S. discontinued its work as a supplier in the global nuclear marketplace. The flagship U.S. company for nuclear power technology is Westinghouse which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 29, 2017. Trump’s initiative isn’t going to help Duane Arnold stay operating as the marketplace is doing its work — there are no customers.

Duane Arnold employs about 540 employees, and because of the nature of nuclear power generation, about 300 will find continued employment during the lengthy decommissioning process. The federal government owns the spent fuel rods and there is no current, viable plan for off-site disposal. Storage time required for spent nuclear fuel rods is measured in multiple millennia. The plant’s license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had been extended until 2024.

The only successful application of nuclear has been in nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers where the question “what do you do with a nuclear submarine/aircraft carrier once its nuclear plant reaches the end of life?” has no good answers.

Renewable energy is Iowa’s future, it is the world’s future. Friday’s announcement was expected, as cost dictates how consumers source electricity. Nuclear power has never been cost-competitive. There will be disruption in workers’ lives and that’s unfortunate. However, the end had to come, and now that the announcement is made people can begin making plans.

~ First posted at Blog for Iowa

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Logic, Reason, Decency and Asbestos

Woman Writing Letter

Almost no one I know outside of politics is talking about the Nov. 6 election. That seems typical… and okay.

Most of us try to be organized. At least we pretend to be. We seek to live lives of logic, reason and decency. We’ll organize to figure out for whom to vote later, maybe around Thanksgiving.

Not so fast! It will be too late on Thanksgiving.

Here’s a head scratcher for logic fans from the Environmental Protection Agency. In our relentless pursuit to Make America Great Again, the administration wants to bring back asbestos. Yes that asbestos, the known carcinogen banned in 55 countries. It may soon be available again in consumer products near you.

Our president has a theory about asbestos regulation. In his 1997 book, Art of the Comeback, he explicitly said asbestos bans are a conspiracy “led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.” What kind of theory is that? It is a conspiracy theory.

Ask a public health professional or physician what they think about deregulating asbestos. While you’re at it, make your plan to vote on Nov. 6.

The logical choice would be to vote Democratic.

~ Published Aug. 9, 2018 in the Solon Economist

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Apple Harvest is Under Way

Pristine Apples

I bought State Fair, William’s Pride, Pristine and Duchess of Oldenberg apples at the orchard and brought them home. All but one have been eaten.

The goal was to taste them and determine which apples to buy for out of hand eating next week. My sixth year of weekend shifts at Wilson’s Orchard begins tomorrow.

We decided on Pristine, which is a yellow-skinned, sweet and juicy apple. It doesn’t keep long so about ten should be enough for next week.

After an hour-long hike through the grounds, I can predict an abundant harvest. With zero apples on our three home apple trees, we’ll need the fruit.

What’s best about working at an orchard is meeting thousands of people from every background. Wealthy and poor, young and old, able bodied and infirm, urban and rural, liberals and conservatives, and everyone in between. Many visitors have a personal history with the orchard, or in the apple business. I relish hearing their stories. It’s great to work where my role is to help people find their way in the orchard and discuss something positive with them as they get away from their usual environment.

Here’s a photo of Rapid Creek, which runs through the middle of the orchard. The pre-season pic captures something serene in an otherwise turbulent world. We all need that from time to time.

Rapid Creek

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Gardening in End Times

Japanese Beetles Enjoying a Pear

I’ve been a gardener since we got married.

We planted a few tomatoes near the duplex we rented in Iowa City the spring after the wedding. As we lived our lives, raised our daughter, and sought economic stability, we either planted a garden or harvested what was there. When we owned a home, first in Merrillville, Indiana, and then in Big Grove, the garden got bigger and I became a better gardener. There is evidence in this year’s abundant harvest.

It didn’t come naturally even though gardening is elemental. The brief narrative of my gardener’s life.

As I step back from the working world to focus on home life what seems clear is society is moving at a startling pace toward disaster. Our industrial society consumes everything useful in nature, leaving us with foul air and water, depleted soil, polluted and acidified oceans devoid of marine life, and a warming world with all the consequences that yields. The earth will survive as it has. We people seem to be on the downside of our prominence. In multiple ways these are end times.

The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek asserts there is a chance for a new beginning in the terminal crisis in which human society finds ourselves. His arguments are not convincing to us regular humans.

What do we do?

What we have done is argue about approaches. Should we have a carbon tax? Should we ban abortion? Should we ban plastic straws? Is wind, sun, nuclear or natural gas a better source of electricity? Should we cut taxes and reduce government’s role in our lives? Should we become socialists, or even worse, democratic socialists? Should we let go of Hillary’s emails? Should we all just try to get along? Approaches don’t work and we should let go of them all.

The better question to ask is what story do we want to tell? As others have said, notably author Joan Didion, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” What narrative will take us out of the current crisis?

For me it’s “I’m becoming a better gardener.”

Regardless of pending social collapse we must go on with our lives. Partly to keep our sanity, and partly — importantly — to take steps toward a more livable world. We will never go back to the Iowa of 1832 before the great division and clear cutting began. What we can do is plant the seeds of a better life where we live. Our forebears left us a disaster. What can we do about it? Make the best of it with forward-looking narratives for the next generations.

I get it that many people don’t have means to do more than survive. When I see the abundance of our garden it’s hard to believe people go without a meal. Yet they do, in large numbers. We can feed a couple of them, but is that enough? It’s something.

The essence of the narrative is the verb to become. “I seem to be a verb,” R. Buckminster Fuller wrote. I seem to be that verb. We are not predestined to anything except our human span of nine decades, and that only if we are lucky. We live in an imperfect society that beckons engagement. I’m not sure working toward perfection is as good as doing something positive is. Knowing what to do requires a better narrative. One that hasn’t been invented for the 21st Century and beyond.

I plan to work on a better narrative, although garden in end times doesn’t seem too bad.

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