Radio Script 01-14-20

Industrial hemp plant. USDA photo.

The 2019 hemp rush reminds me of stories about the 1859 Pikes Peak Gold Rush, that attracted thousands of gold seekers to the central Rocky Mountains, many of whom painted Pikes Peak or Bust on the canvas covers of their wagons when they headed west. Within a couple of years, many of these miners headed back east with signs on their wagons reading Pikes Peak or Bust with Busted by Thunder! Added. By late winter last year, hemp was being promoted as a sure thing for instant wealth. Newspaper articles were quoting promoters who claimed that hemp growers would make $50,000 per acre for anyone who planted the crop. Businesses to supply potted hemp plants and seeds to eager growers and to buy and process the crop for CBD oil that has sprung up in 2018. But Extension specialists and management consultants were recommending that both farmers and potential growers take a cautious approach to growing the untested crop, and start out with no more than an acre of hemp to learn how to grow it. At the same time, the number of licenses to grow hemp in the U.S. grew from about 3,500 in 2018 to almost 17,000 in 2019. But undeterred, many neophyte growers borrowed money or used retirement accounts to finance land leases and purchasing inputs that amounted to $15,000 to $20,000 per acre. In February of 2019, the price for hemp biomass used for CBD oil extraction was quoted at $50 per pound, indicating that at a yield of 1,000 pounds per acre, a gross return of $50,000 per acre was possible. But the Devil’s in the details. Hemp is a crop not unlike wheat, beans or corn. Weather, irrigation, weeds, pests and disease can impact the crop, and like all other crops, supply and demand come into play. By the end of 2019, many hemp fields had been abandoned in the Four Corners Region. Whether it was because of the lack of knowledge about how to care for the crop, the hard work involved, weed infestations, and plummeting hemp biomass prices, the end result was that some of the optomistic growers were like many of the 1859 miners, busted by thunder. Currently, most growers who harvested a crop are holding it, waiting for prices to return to a profitable level when the demand again matches the supply.

Maybe ranchers don’t have to be Dr. Dolittle to communicate with their cattle. Researchers at the University of Sydney recorded hundreds of vocalizations from a herd of Holstein-Freisian cattle, and analyzed these vocalizations by matching them with specific situations that caused the animals to make the sounds. Their study, published in the journal Nature, found that cattle make common sounds specific to events. This research could lead to better predicting what the animals are communicating, because researchers were able to predict whether the sound was positive or negative more than half of the time. Acoustic analysis of these sound may allow ranchers to better respond to an animal that is hungry, about to give birth or is in some kind of stress.

Although farmers and ranchers are watching what happens in Washington D C as President Trump and a Chinese Delegation meet to sign a Phase One trade agreement, many of them are taking a wait and see attitude about whether the talks will do much to improve depressed agricultural commodity prices. Commodity traders are also waiting to see if the agreement help reduce the large grain and oil seed crop stockpiles that have built up over the past year and a half.

Actress, Mary Martin best known for her role as Peter Pan said, “Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.”

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