News that’s fit for head scratchin’

View from Rural Route 8

By Jim Suber

Sometimes we are left just scratchin’ our heads. For example, an economist in Missouri recently reported that the average hog sold in 2012 lost $12. Yet, my wife can report that bacon has done nothing but go up in price at the store the last couple of years.

I know both those statements can be true at the same time.

I have also read from official government sources that hog litters on really big hog farms now average more than 10 saved pigs each.

Mind you, that is more than 20 pigs a year coming off each sow. I recall when 15 or 16 was fine.

Something must be okay with the farrowing facilities, would not one think? Just a quick jab there at the animal welfare activists.

Then I read where the supply of beef this year is going to be 22 pounds fewer per person than it was in 2006. And, it’s going to cost more than it has been because it is going to be more expensive to produce. Really?

I am not sure yet that the producers can just up and announce, “This beef steer cost me the equivalent of $3.50 a pound carcass weight to produce, so I am hereby putting a $4.25 wholesale price on it, take it or leave it.” No, that isn’t the way it works in agriculture, even now mostly.

For the most part farmers are still price takers and not price makers. They have not been able to collude to fix prices.

Now, I suppose that if supplies of something were actually pretty scarce, the next buyers in the chain of events could bid the prices up in order to obtain something, but that’s about the only way any farm price is ever lifted, and that is still merely price taking.

Also, you might have heard that a Plainview, Texas, beef plant shut down the other day because of the lack of cattle around it. Now that is something else again.

Instead of bidding up what few cattle were available, Cargill just told scores of employees to go on home—now git—until further notice and essentially told feedyards and cattle owners in the neighborhood also where to go and it wasn’t home until further notice. Or maybe that sounds too harsh.

I just know after the plant closed there were no stockmen standing around in the parking lot left holding boxes of retail price stickers with bar codes they had meant to leave with their cattle for the plant to attach to the finished product for the grocery stores and their customers.

I read where a local weatherman said not long ago that it would take a flood like the 2009 disaster to put our soil moisture back right where we need it to be.

He said this is the worst drought in the area in 60 years. As this is being written, the sky is clouding up and rain (not much) is expected to arrive within 30 hours and hang around for 12 more, dripping and teasing us.

The experts have just said the drought got worse over the last week and they put out numbers to prove it. And seriously, the wheat growers’ moods are darkening with each passing dry week.

Last year’s 382 million bushel crop was the best in a long time, and it probably is not threatened at all by this year’s coming crop to lose its standing as best in a long time.

From a much longer time ago I recall a cheerful prediction by a wheat company official at the end of the annual wheat tour of the state that 500 million bushels a year soon would be routine. It hasn’t been close since. It was bad luck to brag in advance. Never do that. Please.

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