Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Corn Stalk Bales, Distillers Grain, and Cattle Feed

These rows of large round bales are composed of corn stalks. In years past this material might have been used as bedding for cattle or horses, if it was used at all. Mostly corn stalks were plowed back into the soil to add to soil health. Now corn stalks are being chopped and mixed with distillers grain from ethanol distillers so this by product might be fed to cattle. Forty percent of all SD corn grown is fermented into ethanol. After this grain has been ground into flour, mixed with water, and allowed to ferment into alcohol and carbon dioxide, it is distilled into alcohol. The left over dried grain flour and yeast can not be fed directly to animals as it is too rich for them to digest. Fiber needs to be added, and corn stalks have an abundance of fiber. Feed lots use many tons of distillers grain which has created a market for baled corn stalks. Corn farmers now have another crop to sell that in the past was of no economic value. But we are left with some troubling questions. What is the consequence for soil to have this material removed every fall? Is this feed mixture healthy for pigs and cattle? Is it healthy for us to be eating animals fattened on his feed? What are the real hidden costs to burning billions of gallons of ethanol in our cars and trucks?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012

Iron Lung, Nurse and Patient

Iron lungs allowed people paralyzed by polio to breath. They were confined to this machine for months, years, or sometimes life. In the 1940s and 50s over half a million people a year world wide came down with Polio, a disease that became common in the 20th Century. With the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines, introduced first in 1955, the highest number of new cases in the U.S., polio was eliminated by 1962. From 1920s to 1950s it was epidemic, especially among middle-class, white school age children. Its most famous victim was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Hospital food doesn't look any better as a model than it does in reality.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Optical and Dental Instruments of the Past

This equipment could have been in my dentist's surgery and in my optician's office when I was young. That drill is still an instrument I remember being painful. The dentist only used novocain on the largest fillings, so most of the time is was just put up with the pain, and don't move. Thankfully dentistry has come a long way. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fall Field Work

South Dakota produces $9.4 billion dollars worth of farm receipts spread across 31,800 farms in 2011. Just over half this amount is from livestock. Cattle make up about half of all livestock receipts. Other livestock such as sheep, goats, turkeys, chickens and horses make up the other half. Of field crops corn is the most important with forty percent of all corn going to ethanol production from 15 plants located mostly in eastern S.D which produces the most corn. These facilities produced over one billion gallons of ethanol last year.  (Statistics from S.D. Department of Agriculture)

All is not well in farm and ranch country despite the value of all crops. Farmers are an aging population. The average age for those whose principle occupation is farming is 60.2 years, which means that about half of all farmers are older than this. This aging population is not being replaced by a younger generation of farmers at the same rate at which farmers are leaving agriculture. From 1980 until 2011 the rural population of S.D. actually declined by 1,000 people while the urban population grew by 134,000.

The result is that there are fewer farms now than any time since Homesteading in the 19th Century, but those farms are also larger than any time in history. Used to be that a 120 acre farm could support a family of six people, but that is not possible today. With fewer farms and fewer people living in rural areas, the small towns across the state are shrinking, and in some cases disappearing all together. Rural institutions, such as schools, hospitals, police, and fire, are increasingly having to consolidate to serve a dwindling population. Should these trends continue some, such as Frank J. Popper, who teaches in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and his wife Deborah Popper have suggested that this state become a buffalo commons once again in their 1987 article, The Great Plains: From Dust to Dust, published in Planning. While I doubt that will come to pass, there are other negative predictions that extreme depopulation can bring. The rural areas of the Great Plains may become a host to roaming bands of outlaws who are able to hide in the vast expanse of mostly empty land lacking any local law enforcement.

The agricultural land will continue to be farmed in this bleak, depopulated future. Already under construction in Fargo, N.D. are huge, powerful tractors that need no operator. They are computer controlled and can accurately run farm equipment in a field to an inch or less, and they can be moved anywhere following a pilot vehicle. Controlled from the Internet by their corporation to do all work from tillage to harvest, these machines now cost about one third as much as current manned tractors. These machines are still in developmental stages, but their widespread application can not be far in the future. Both declining farm population and economics favor their becoming common.

I'm not sure how many years we will have fall harvest scenes like those pictured above. Perhaps we are now seeing the end of an era in agriculture, and are about to enter a brave new world of computer driven farm machinery controlled from the corporate offices of large vertically integrated agricultural corporations which produce most all of our food and fiber. This is not good news about the quality of our food or the use of our land.