By Blaine Davis, Contributing Editor
FROM THE INFLATION of my morning coffee to the “not-so-happy- hour” prices at the evening watering hole, the future is anything but cloudy. Just this morning, the donut case was empty again for the third consecutive day because the donut maker left for another employment opportunity. Not only are we experiencing national supply-chain crises and employment issues, I have one right at home. With the never-ending cycle of so-called news and gloom and a lack of national leadership, where do I turn? Opening my May/June issue of the Farm Journal, columnist, John Phipps penned,“Clues to Our Future,” which cleared up some of my clouds and just maybe provided a little blue sky.
In what Mr. Phipps described as a mash-up of seemingly unconnected ideas, facts and guesses, he outlined 13 trends that could impact your farm. Siding with Mr. Phipps, this is how information arrives every day of our lives with visualization of the interaction of the disparate pieces of news becoming hard work and often avoided, even by me. Several of these facts or pieces of information revolve around our country’s nemesis, China. Seven of 10 largest shipping ports are located in China, with two additional ones on the Pacific Rim and the remaining one in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Looking ahead, it is not difficult to see that world trade is at the discretion of the Chinese Communist Party. Secondly, China’s aging population has created a “4-2-1” situation, where only one child cares for two parents and four grandparents simultaneously. With their working
age labor force decreasing, additional workers will be needed across all industries, not just for senior care.
Closer to home, Mr. Phipps postulates there is no evidence of consolidation of farmland ownership, even as farming operations grow. The number of tracts and owners appears virtually static. Animal welfare legislation might prove to be an investment opportunity. In California, egg consumption has not decreased, even with a big price jump (50¢/egg), which tops cage-free renovation costs (24¢). From gluten- free to non-GMO, farmers have not won a battle against consumer biases. With the shift in trust from science to simple explanations, the public will struggle with agricultural technology, even as producers embrace it. Having driven across acres of seemingly prime arable ground north of Abilene, Texas, now home to a vast array of solar panels contradicts Mr. Phipps statement,“Due to the grid, sunlight, cost, etc., solar panels will overwhelmingly not be placed on farmland.”
This same array of solar collectors were one and the same that became inoperable due to extreme icing from the February 2021 winter storm that struck the Southern Plains, where upwards of 23 percent of Texas’ power grid was shuttered, and simultaneously millions of residents shuddered in the cold.
To power the entire United States with solar panels would require 14 million acres or about the size of Lake Michigan. This would represent 1.5 percent of the present farmland or two-thirds of the enrolled CRP acreage.
The displacement of the farmland is not the only environmental disaster, but the manufacturing of the components is. To process silicate into silicon requires a cornucopia of chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, hydrogen fluoride, trichloroethane and acetone. Add to this, they also need frightening-labeled compounds and substances such as gallium, arsenide, copper-indium-gallium-diselenide and cadmium-telluride, which are highly toxic. The dust from the production of the silicone is a breathing hazard to the plant workers, and the subsequent panels cannot be recycled. Similar to windmills, solar arrays are more destructive to the Earth’s environment than the “Going Green” contingent will admit.
Probably one fact that I can relate to and am totally guilty of is Mr. Phipps assertion that, each day, Americans spend more than seven hours at a screen, about half on a mobile device. Whether it is checking my email accounts, weather radar and forecasts, grain market reports, news or “so-called” news, and even architectural drawings, my eyes are blurred by these screens. Globally, our mobile internet speed ranks a mere 23rd. It’s no wonder I’ve been heard lamenting to the point of cursing as downloads seem to take forever.
Following several of these clues espoused by Mr. Phipps, the future impact on my farm is still not fully evident, but by sorting through, monitoring and analyzing such data like that of past history may just prove to provide some blue sky.