A couple weeks ago I wrote an article speculating on what might happen if Bayer decided it was done with glyphosate (and, by extension, Round-Up). The company inherited thousands of glyphosate lawsuits when it purchased Monsanto. And keeping the popular herbicide approved in the EU is getting trickier. So maybe Bayer would decide it was time to move on…
Well, that’s pretty much what just happened.
Bayer announced it plans on investing over $5.6 billion in developing new ways to combat weeds. It explained the investment “will go towards improving the understanding of resistance mechanisms, discovering and developing new modes of actions, further developing tailored Integrated Weed Management solutions and developing more precise recommendations through digital farming tools.” Bayer also wants to partner with weed scientists around the world to develop more localized solutions.
As Politico’s Morning Ag points out: that’s a lot of cash. Sure, Bayer is a huge company with lots of resources. But $5.6 billion is equivalent to the entire amount the company spends on R&D annually.
This move was going to happen eventually, even without glyphosate’s problems. Round-Up is off patent, so anyone can produce it. And weeds develop resistance to herbicides all the time. It’s a problem farmers have dealt with for the entire history of this occupation. So we have to adapt, evolve, and find new ways to beat weeds.
But I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bayer made the decision now. Its legal bills are piling up. Investors are unhappy they just bought a mess of litigation. And the organized and calculated hit job will only continue.
Glyphosate isn’t going way. But Bayer/Monsanto is ready to move on.
Here’s my hope though: that they learned from their Round-Up mistakes. Monsanto’s public-relations team admitted to us back in 2017 that they kinda messed up. They thought they only had to sell genetically-modified crops, specifically the Round-Up Ready traits, to farmers. They never anticipated needing to convince consumers that GMOs are good, too.
So when Bayer finally finds the next-best herbicide, I hope they sell it to all of us: farmers and consumers alike. And in our digital age of social-media wisdom, that’s the only real option. Otherwise, history will repeat itself.
Can you guess what these two statistics have in common: 1) foreign investors now own 30-million acres of U.S. farmland; and 2) two-thirds of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the next few decades.
If you guessed a big opportunity for foreign investors to expand their holdings of American farmland you nailed it. And as NPR pointed out in a recent article, a lot of people are concerned about it. The average age of farmers continues to increase (it’s currently 55). And as those farmers retire, or otherwise exit the industry, something has to happen to all that farmland. Rural Americans certainly aren’t in an economic position to capitalize on the transfer. So it could be an opportunity for foreign investors.
So what can we do about it?
The situation reminds me of my trip to Ukraine in 2013, which was sponsored by Michigan Farm Bureau. For 10 days we traveled around the country meeting farmers and learning about the area’s agricultural systems. We also met with Ukraine’s agriculture secretary to discuss the policies and problems facing the nation.
One thing was abundantly clear: land ownership was a big problem.
The communist government took over Ukraine after World War II. The regime eliminated private ownership of everything, including farmland. Most rural Ukrainians live in small villages surrounded by thousands of hectares. So each village was assigned the surrounding land to farm for the state.
But Ukraine declared its independence in 1997. The newly-formed government restored private-property ownership, almost literally, overnight. Suddenly, the world’s most sought-after arable land was once again available for private ownership. The farmland was split between the families who previously worked it.
Not surprisingly, the government worried about foreign investors. Villagers hadn’t owned anything in decades. And suddenly they had a piece of very valuable land. Who would blame them for selling out quickly and enjoying the earnings? So the government passed laws prohibiting the transferability of land. No sales. No gifts. No exchanges. Land could only be passed by inheritance.
The prohibition was meant as a temporary solution. Government leaders were supposed to figure out a way to restore alienability of property rights without risking foreign investments. But it still exists today. And time has only complicated matters.
Rural Ukrainians know they own a portion of these large fields. But it isn’t clear which 5 hectares they own. And even if they knew, the chances are that its landlocked by everyone else’s small plots. Worse, the original owners have passed away. So these small plots have been divided further and passed to the next generation, usually without anyone knowing who actually owns it now.
Most farmland in Ukraine has been leased to massive corporations for ridiculously low rents. The villagers who were supposed to benefit from private ownership now receive a pittance for it. The thug-like companies farming the land don’t necessarily hire local Ukrainians to farm it. And, as we found out in a rather scary moment, they don’t really like anyone keeping track of them. (Ironically, shortly after we left, Chinese companies purchased leases on a significant portion of Ukraine’s farmland.)
Our tour group questioned the policy when we met with Ukraine’s agriculture minister. He assured us then that the government only had the villager’s best interests in mind when adopting the prohibition. And they were diligently working to restore transferability rights. Six years later nothing has changed.
The group’s general consensus was that these policies hurt the villagers they were initially supposed to protect. They had no pride of ownership in the land. The land wasn’t being used to its full potential. And the policies were seemingly keeping the villagers in poverty. What’s the point of owning land if you can’t convey it? Ukraine’s overall agricultural production is repressed because of it.
Back in the United States, I still hope and believe we would never adopt such a regressive and shortsighted law. We’re firm believers in private-property rights. Our existing laws are fair, predictable, reasoned, and sensible. And we have a strong farm lobby that would (hopefully!) recognize the pitfalls of ending alienability.
But as we face the issue of rising foreign ownership of land, I do worry about the knee-jerk reactions. We don’t feel good about those faceless, foreign entities owning our farmland. We’re fiercely proud of our farm-family legacy. And we don’t like when something gets in the way of it.
Before you think it’s crazy to suggest that we could have Ukrainian-like laws in America, let me tell you that we already have some laws. The Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act requires foreign entities to report transactions to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. And six states ban foreign ownership completely: Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
I’m not trying to suggest that we shouldn’t have any laws about foreign ownership of farmland. There’s definitely a national-security interest in keeping our food production in the hands of Americans. So keeping farmland protected from foreign interests makes sense and has broad appeal.
Yet real property is so valuable because it comes with certain rights, including unrestrained alienability. My law-school professor referred to it as “the bundle of sticks” that each landowner obtains upon owning property, with each stick representing a different right. Those rights are important. And certainly restrictions that are too regressive may devalue farmland, which can hurt older Americans who’ve invested all their money in that land.
So I’m suggesting we proceed with caution. We can certainly take steps to protect national farmland ownership. But we don’t want to turn into Ukraine in the process.
The first skirmish in the beer wars played out in a Wisconsin federal courthouse. And MillerCoors came out on top!
It’s been several months since Anheuser-Busch debuted its anti-corn syrup campaign at the Super Bowl. Readers will recall that Bud Light’s commercials mocked Miller Lite and Coors Lite for using corn in the fermentation process. The beer giants battled it out over social media. And then MillerCoors filed a lawsuit.
As part of the lawsuit, MillerCoors asked the judge for a preliminary injunction. This is a procedural mechanism parties can use to stop bad behavior while they litigate. And they’re only granted when the requesting party can show the judge that its claim has merit and is likely to succeed.
Judge William Conley was convinced and granted the preliminary injunction. So Anheuser-Busch must stop:
saying Bud Light contains “100% less corn syrup;”
referencing Bud Light and “no corn syrup” without reference to “brewed with, “made with,” or “uses;” and
describing “corn syrup” as an ingredient “in” the finished product.
And it’s worth noting that Judge Conley also denied Anheuser-Busch’s motion to dismiss. That’s basically the initial procedural hurdle that a party has to get past when filing a lawsuit. So MillerCoors is sitting pretty so far.
Now, I haven’t seen the full documents, but I understand that the preliminary injunction doesn’t grant MillerCoors everything it requested. So the entire marketing campaign didn’t get pulled.
But this is definitely a strong start! Anheuser-Busch is trying to spin the results by claiming victory for “transparency.” I have no idea how that’s even supposed to make sense. But when you’re having a bad day in court, I guess you can’t always show it.
In a statement, MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley enjoyed the moment and had this to say:
As the dominant market leader, Anheuser Busch should be seeking to grow the beer category, not destroy it through deceptive advertising. Their campaign is bad for the public, bad for the beer industry and against the law. We are happy to hold them accountable for it, and we look forward to the next steps in this case .
I like Gavin’s sentiments. Why would the industry leader tear down it’s competitors with a malicious falsehood? I know “big” beer companies are struggling to hold onto a shrinking market share. But I’m not sure a bad marketing campaign is ever a viable solution. Why not try to innovate or adapt instead? That seems to be a better and more business-savvy option.
[Note: This is a guest post from the people at Farm Life Slovenia. They run an old-fashioned Slovenian farm and offer tourists the opportunity to visit and see what it’s like. They asked to trade blog posts with me. And since I visited Ukraine in 2013 and really enjoyed seeing agriculture in a different country, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity!]
The smell of freshly baked bread is very warm and comforting and evokes lovely childhood memories. Why not recreate this homely feeling and try to make your own bread, using only your hands and the most basic ingredients.
The traditional way of making bread in Slovenia used no other implements than your hands, a wooden racket and an old wood-fire oven. Some of us remember how our grandmothers used to bake bread and how delicious it was, still warm from the oven.
The craft of making your own bread is becoming quite popular, so let’s take a look how it was done in the past.
Flour, water, salt and some love
A pair of hardworking hands and some basic ingredients, such as flour, salt and water, was all that was needed to make a loaf of bread. Decades ago Slovenian housewives used to make their own “wild yeast” from a fermented mixture of flour and water. Baking bread with sour dough took time, effort and patience, but natural fermentation meant the bread was delicious and easily digested.
When the dough had risen it was time to put it in the wood burning furnace. The housewives coated the loaf with some flour and egg and put in the hot furnace with a wooden racket. After an hour the bread was baked and the kitchen would smell amazing.
You can experience this old baking method in Slovenia, a boutique picturesque country in the heart of Europe, where old traditions and customs are still alive in the countryside. Here you can experience life as it once was, combined with modern practices.
Life on a farm
Discover life on a farm with farm life Slovenia, where you visit an authentic Slovenian farm and spend a day like a farmer. Learn about traditions and customs and experience a number of activities, such as making bread the traditional way. You’ll help farmers with their daily routine and spend an active day in the country while learning and trying new exciting things.
As I sit here writing this post there’s a steady rain falling outside. The windows are partially open. And I keep getting up to check whether the rain is getting inside. But I can’t bring myself to close them completely, because we’ve hardly been able to open them all spring.
When the sun does come out, it doesn’t last very long. The grass is barely dry before the distant sound of thunder starts. Sure, we’ve had a few sunny days. And I’ve managed to plant my garden between showers. But it just keeps raining.
If you follow any other farm bloggers from the Midwest, I’m sure you’ve seen the constant complaints about the weather. I know, farmers complain about the weather every year. But the rain this year has seriously messed up plant19.
And it’s more than just a lot of rainfall. It’s also the weather pattern. Honestly, I’m not even sure we’ve had a record amount of rain. But we never have enough sun and dry weather to dry out the fields. It’s three days of rain, one of sun. Or three days of sun and rain mixed. We can’t get in the fields with the equipment if it’s muddy. So we usually need a good day or two (or more in fields with heavier soil) without rain before we can try planting. Otherwise, the tractor and planter get stuck. (Yes, we’ve gotten stuck this spring.)
My brother’s field in late May. Don’t even try to drive through that…you won’t make it!
And we’re up against the clock. The drop-dead date for planting corn is June 5th. If we plant beyond that date, we won’t be eligible for crop insurance. Considering how the weather has been so far, I’m not sure whether that’s a great risk to take or not. Also, the later we plant, the later we have to harvest. We can get snow in October in Michigan. So maybe we don’t even get the crop harvested.
The forecast for the rest of the week calls for rain. Every. Single. Day.
Honestly, I don’t see how we get it done. And that’s going to be true for a lot of farmers this year. I’m worried about how it turns out. We still have to pay the mortgage or rent, taxes, insurance, equipment loans, input costs and all the rest. Those burdens on top of an already-bad economy…. that’s rough.