Radio Script 5-21-19

Osmia Ribifloris, A wild bee related to the Blue Orchard Bee USDA ARS Photo by Jack Dykinga

Good morning. This is Bob Bragg. Welcome to the May 21st edition of Farm News and Views.

Did you celebrate World Bee Day yesterday? I did, and I read some interesting statistics about bees that I’ll share. World wide there are over 20,000 species of bees, including about 4,000 species of Native bees in North America that are found where ever flowers bloom. Bees are estimated to pollinate 170,000 species of plants worldwide, so the common expression “busy as a bee” isn’t just a misnomer. It was once believed that honey bees didn’t exist in North America before Europeans brought them to Virginia in 1622. But a 2009 discovery of a 14 million year old fossil of an extinct honey bee in west-central Nevada proved that honey bees had lived in North America in the distant past. In the west, according to records, the first honey bees arrived in Utah about 1850, and came to Colorado in 1863. Although honey bee Queens often live for three or four years, worker bees live for a few weeks in the summer, and a few months while in the hive during winter. One worker bee will produce about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime in the summer.

With steel and aluminum tariffs being lifted from Canada and Mexico, and Japan agreeing to remove restrictions on beef imports, farmers and ranchers were breathing sign of relief late last week. But now, the markets have finally realized that Midwestern farmers are having problems getting their corn and soybeans crops planted because of wet, muddy conditions in their fields. Prices for these crops have rallied over the past couple of days and also carried wheat futures higher. According to the USDA Weekly Crop Progress report, Corn Belt farmers are running from 30 to 70% behind the four year average of having corn planted by this time of year. Although soybeans are usually planted later than corn, the soybean planting window is getting narrower too. Late planted corn and soybeans don’t yield as well as crops planted earlier in May. Farmers may see a 15% yield reduction of corn planted on May 20th versus May 1st, and soybeans planted at the end of May often yield 9 to 10% less bushels that those planted by May 10th.

Since agricultural exports, or lack of them, have dominated agricultural news for months now, it is not easy determine how important exports are to the overall farm economy. But a recent article by Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, titled, Surviving Trade Wars, gives us some context. Ray and Schaffer point out that exports don’t guarantee profitable prices for major-crop farmers, and that over the last 150 years, there’s been only three times that exports have resulted in profitable prices for major crops in general: Those were WWI, WWII, and the mid-1970s, and those periods all ended badly with depressed prices. Although commodity groups tout exports as a key to farm profitability, history tells us that exports don’t consistently deliver on that promise, since overproduction is a long-term characteristic of crop agriculture, and unfortunately, for crop farmers, high crop prices cure high prices.

The thought for today comes from some good old cowboy logic. It is, the biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every morning.

Until next week. This is Bob Bragg.

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