A Blog for Iowa 350 Day Message
by Paul Deaton “an
idea, a relationship, can go extinct, just like an animal or a plant.
The idea in this case is 'nature,' the separate and wild province, the
world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was born
and died…We never thought that we had wrecked nature.”
According to Mark Pearson of Iowa Public Television's “Market to Market,” “people literally were gasping for air” after the USDA released its October crop production estimates for corn at 156 bushels per acre, or nine bushels per acre less than earlier crop estimates. The price of corn shot up $0.63 per bushel on Friday before reaching “limit up” which is the maximum allowable increase in price on an exchange handling the transaction. Once the guest analyst, Tomm Pfitzenmaier explained that making such a large adjustment all at once was unexpected, more than the actual yield shortfall, he explained more of what is going on in corn crop production this year.
He said, “you know, we've been getting reports over the last month that these corn yields are disappointing virtually from about everywhere, every part of the country, even in the northern belt where it was supposed to be really good it was okay, good in some places but not overwhelmingly good. So, I guess ultimately it wasn't a huge surprise but the fact that we got it all in one chunk certainly was.”
Blog for Iowa follows the row crop commodities and with the cooler summer and abundant rain, it is no surprise that per acre corn yields are lower than forecast. As the crop has been coming in, farmers have been talking about reduced yields, mostly related to change from the expected climatic conditions. After all, everyone knows that regardless of the genetics of a crop, weather plays a significant role in how the plants develop and contributes to yield.
When Secretary of Agriculture candidate Francis Thicke was in Solon the week before last, BFIA asked him if the reduction in corn yields could be attributed to climate change. His answer was what most people who understand the science of climate change believe, that it is unlikely this specific yield reduction can be directly attributed to climate change caused by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, he referred to officials at Iowa State University, who indicate that climate change is having an impact on crop yields. Compared to our grandparent's farming day, a yield of 156 bushels per acre is still pretty good.
Bill McKibben indicated in his 1989 book, “The End of Nature,” “an idea, a relationship, can go extinct, just like an animal or a plant. The idea in this case is 'nature,' the separate and wild province, the world apart from man to which he adapted, under whose rules he was born and died…We never thought that we had wrecked nature. Deep down we never really thought we could: it was too big and too old; its forces – the wind, the rain, the sun – were strong, too elemental…
“the meaning of the wind, the sun, the rain – of nature – has already changed. Yes, the wind still blows – but no longer from some other sphere, some inhuman place…” wrote McKibben.
By changing the atmosphere through the emission of CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases, according to McKibben “we are changing the weather. By changing the weather, we make every spot on earth man made and artificial. We have deprived nature of its independence, and that is fatal to its meaning. Nature's independence is its meaning; without it there is nothing but us.”
My point is this. Traders will always react to the news that filters out to them as they work on the exchanges for corn, wheat, and other commodities. They seek to make a profit on price changes caused by the news. To the trader, it doesn't matter what is causing the news: it is a very superficial, if sometimes profitable relationship.
At some time we will realize that what was once the idea of “nature” has vanished and we are left with a different, and sometimes scary new idea. The idea is that we are increasingly living in an environment where the old rules no longer apply and new rules, driven by our reliance on practices and technologies that produce greenhouse gases, will determine them. When we took the world and made it what it is, we had no idea that we would end up here, with man-made weather impacting crop production. If this doesn't help us turn off the television and do something about it, I'm not sure anything will. ~Paul
Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend
editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul