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Ken Root Page Banner

 

Ken Root has been a farm broadcaster for 39 years with time spent in Oklahoma, Kansas, Washington, D.C., Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. He has also been a columnist for the past seventeen years. Ken's opinions are his own, his memories are of an Oklahoma childhood and his wit is sometimes so sharp that some folks don't know they've been cut.

You can reach him at if you wish to encourage more columns or criticize his latest attempt to get to "The Root of the Problem"

 

Build The Pipeline!
By Ken Root

Idealism must painfully give way to pragmatism. Fantasy has yield to reality. There has to be realization that we must utilize our logic and ability to survive and thrive. Proposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, from Canada to Cushing, Oklahoma, has become another of the political, emotional and environmental separations that gridlock our country and impact our economy. It is time to lay down our differences and pick up our shovels.

The Bakkan region of North Dakota and Canada is being developed. The technology to produce oil from the shale formations has been propelled by one hundred dollar per barrel oil. Putting it in volumetric and energy terminology, here are 42 gallons in one barrel of oil, which is approximately 5.8 million British Thermal Units (MBtus) or 1,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). That means every gallon of oil is worth about $2.38 at the wellhead. Once you have that price level, it is just a matter of transporting it out that comes into play. This situation is not unlike the fur trappers who went into the frontier to trap beaver or the miners who went after gold. The value was too great to leave it alone and their impact was already made before society started to react to the consequences of their actions. Fur trading and gold mining opened up the continent and accelerated settlement. If there is no pipeline, the oil will still come out whether by truck, train or pack mule.

We built the Alaskan pipeline in the 1970's in one of the greatest technological feats in the history of the world. Can't we build another one forty years later that would be even better? The Alaskan pipeline runs over mountain ranges and across earthquake zones and the biggest spill was on a ship after it had sailed.

Nebraska has put up some big roadblocks to the Keystone XL line and continues to fight internally over the route. This is the modern day challenge of rights of the minority to prevail over the common good for the majority. If we had faced today's sensitivity in the past, there would be no railroads, no dams, no interstate highways and no transmission lines. Visual pollution, as it is called, has stopped many projects just because activists could get the public to side with their view and tie the project up in the court system or get a government agency to deny a permit.

This brings up condemnation of land under Eminent Domain. It is sometimes defined as: "What is good for the country as a whole is constitutional." The spirit of that concept has been abused by government, business and the court system but a narrowly defined version should still remain in effect for this type of project. Proper damages for construction and remediation payment for future liability should be enforced by the government but an individual or a state should not be able to block the path of this pipeline.

It is so hard to be fat, happy and realistic. We have gone to war to keep our foreign oil supply and killed thousands of our military and civilians. We would not have entered the first Gulf War nor would we have invaded Iraq if it had not been for our addiction to oil. Note the atrocities in Africa that we verbally condemned but watched from afar because they didn't have oil so our national interest was not at stake.

For those who want renewable energy, the Bakken region may be the pathway. As we build infrastructure in North Dakota, we open up one of the largest potential wind energy states in the nation. This oil is not going to be cheap, nor last forever, so we can use it to bridge from low mileage vehicles to higher mileage and to hydrogen fuel cells and other technologies because we keep or money and our troops at home while drawing oil from a friendly nation next door.

Projections for the field show that it will produce a million barrels per day through the end of 2029. Part of the field is in the United States and part in Canada. They have the opportunity to sell their oil anywhere they want. Wouldn't it be a sad statement if Canadian oil was shipped east and west for export and not pipelined south to us?

Finally, the political aspect of this controversy is thick as molasses. The Democratic President doesn't want to alienate his environmental constituents or play into the hands of Republicans so he won't endorse the project. The Republicans want to make sure they don't lose their chance at taking over the Senate and the Presidency in 2016 so they will do whatever is required to keep the President from raising his favorable ratings. We need to get beyond politics on this issue because it will bring enough economic good that everyone can share in it.

If we would honestly look back to September 11, 2001, and ask what brought that terrorist attack, it would all come down to our thirst for foreign oil. We spent so much on high tech military dominance that we made ourselves vulnerable to suicide attacks. We are now spending millions of dollars every day to protect oil interests in the Middle East and we are alienating the world by hitting terrorists with drone strikes because we can't lose dominance in oil producing countries. It's time to let Arabs keep their oil and stuff their animosity. Let's shift our supply line straight north. I don't fear attack from Canadians or North Dakotans for buying theirs.

 


Chinese Corn Espionage Case

Spy thriller in the corn!  Robert MO, a Chinese National, has been charged.  The FBI has stopped him and partners from getting out of the country with a large number of corn seed samples that they stole.  Read the 20+ page document link below.

http://www.npr.org/documents/2013/dec/corn_case.pdf

 

 

 

 

Ken Root

Ken Root

  • Parent Category: Blog

Goin' to Town

Root Zone
April 1, 2014
By Ken Root

I grew up as a farm kid. We lived on a dirt road, a couple of miles from the small town of Luther, Oklahoma. Our work was on the farm every day but on Saturday afternoon, my parents usually went to town to buy groceries and to visit. It was an exciting place for me as it combined the economic and social aspects of the community and was a break from the routine of farm life.
My parents were frugal, particularly my mother. She never shopped without a grocery list that was already totaled to the bottom. Her strict spending was enforced on all of us, dad included. She was not unkind as I would get a nickel to buy candy at the front counter of Melvin's Grocery Store where they had a box to stand on so you could see the small candies lined up on top along with the candy bars in the glass case underneath. I would usually buy penny items; from bazooka bubble gum, to banana chewies, to wax lips that were sweet and could be eaten after showing off with them for a few minutes.


My parents had the need for "staples" when they shopped. They always bought bread, coffee, sugar, salt and flour. Dad bought Prince Albert tobacco and they occasionally purchased canned mackerel and bologna. Melvin would slice the "baloney" for mom and she would fry it and put on sandwiches.
This was post war (WWII) so farmers no longer were rationed on items like tires and sugar. The consumer age was creeping in so it was a lot easier to buy bread than to make it. But indulgences were few; when the total budget for the week was reached, the cart was pushed to the front and the amount was put on a bill that she paid on the first Saturday of the following month.
Out on the street, was a sidewalk full of farmers. Dad was actually young compared to most and he would move from man to man to talk about crops, weather and news of the day. Our farm was called "The Huntington Place" recognizing the first family that owned it after settlement. A son of the original owner was still living and he would talk to dad about the farm we had bought just a few years earlier. "There is a tile line on the north side of your place in the black dirt of that field sitting on the back side," according to Mr. Huntingon. "I helped put that in as a boy." Dad would quiz him on the outlet to the creek as it was well over a quarter mile away. He never remembered but just assured dad there was tile under that wet ground.
Several years later, as I was old enough to help plow, we had two tractors running at the same time. I was on the MT John Deere that had a belly mounted plow and dad was driving the old B John Deere with a two bottom, pull plow from the 1930's. I recalled seeing him look at a puddle of water where bubbles were coming up and then jump off and head to the house. He returned quickly with a shovel and abandoned the tractor that set there popping while he dug. An hour later he whooped and waved the shovel in the air as he had found the end of the tile line about four feet deep and forty feet from the current path of the creek. The hole began to fill with water and the next week we got a back hoe in to dig out a trench so we could extend it to drainage. The line began to run in wet weather and the small field, way up on the other end of the farm, dried appreciably. Mr. Huntington had died by that time, as I remember, but he passed on useful information on those Saturday visits on Main Street.


The merchants realized their big day to get farmers to shop, was Saturday, so they would have a drawing from tickets given out for each dollar purchased in the past week at stores on the one block run that extended on both sides of the street. The five dollar drawing was the first ticket out of the box that was claimed with the matching copy. They drew until there was a winner. The twenty dollar ticket was only drawn once. If there was no winner, it went to forty dollars the next week. This caused a lot of excitement as the number would sometimes get to a hundred dollars of store credit, which was a lot of money at that time. My mother won it once at the twenty dollar level and took her script into the grocery store the next week, paid for her normal groceries, and then asked for the rest in cash.


We had a racial division of the town. Washington School sat on the southeast side and was "separate but equal" for blacks and Luther School, up the hill on the east side, was for whites. There were a few stores and shops that catered to the colored population for haircuts, shoe repair and dry goods. The other stores were integrated but there were social lines that blacks did not cross and a certain demeanor that they maintained. As the 1950's unfolded, the schools began a long and painful integration process. Rights for black people slowly improved and opportunities expanded allowing many to leave the farming community. There were some interesting and colorful members of the African-American community that I regret that I did not get to know except for their names and stations in life.


We were not frozen in time. Each year, divisions of the community faded from stark black and white to softer shades of gray. Farmers took jobs in construction and at Tinker Air Force Base. Blacks also found jobs in Oklahoma City and departed. The schools moved a few more grades together and they began to close down Washington School. Roads improved and more people had cars. Television sets became common and our horizon expanded. Many who took off farm jobs found their original home town turning into a place where they lived on weekends but they had been to town every day so Saturday was no longer special.


The resulting homogeneous mixture really tasted no better to anyone. But economic conditions improved for most and the 1930's depression and 1940's war were clearly over. We integrated more than our racial divide, we laid down the cultural diversity that had defined us since statehood and we haltingly, reluctantly moved into the modern age.

  • Parent Category: Blog

Chinese Corn Espionage Case

Robert MO, a Chinese National, has been charged.  The FBI stopped him and partners from getting out of the country with a large number of corn seed samples that they stole.  Read the 20+ page document link below

http://www.npr.org/documents/2013/dec/corn_case.pdf

 

  • Parent Category: Blog

Ireland and U.S. - Entwined Past, Shared Future

Root of the Problem

By WGFA National Farm Broadcaster, Ken Root

Ken Root has just returned from an agricultural tour of Ireland. He has been leading groups on international trips for almost forty years but this was his first to the Emerald Isle.

 

Ireland is as green as they say. The sky is often cloudy and rain is almost a daily event. Looking at the globe, Ireland is comparable to New Zealand in its latitude and climate. Both are lush, green and temperate and both have the ability to grow grass for most of the year. The future for these island nations may lie in their competitive advantage in turning succulent cellulose into meat and milk for the growing international market that lies between them.

It was a joy to travel across Ireland because the land is beautiful and the people are friendly. They welcome Americans and converse easily about all kinds of issues. We have a shared relationship going back to massive immigration during the potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. In American, the Irish were the Mexicans of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are forty six million Americans who claim Irish ancestry while the island nation's current population is less than five million.

The Irish are long suffering in their relationship with Brittan and hold deep animosity for how they were treated. The past is not past when they tell you of the millions who starved while grain was exported from Ireland to England or when an Irish independence movement was snuffed out in 1916. They like Americans as we were the first country to recognize them as a republic and Irish Americans have a love for their home country and its customs. When you get right down to it, we all want to be Irish, at least on St. Patrick's Day.

Ireland is positioning it's agriculture for a run at the international dairy market in 2015. We surmised this by touring a registered Holstein-Friesian farm near Dublin and a dairy product research center. Both were anticipating the European Union to end quotas for dairy production in the next two years and allow countries to determine the agricultural commodities they will produce based on more of a free market.

Irish dairy farmers have shown that they can be competitive in the world market due to low cost forage. Translating grass to dairy products beats grain fed cows in cost of milk produced. To show that advantage, butter from Ireland is common in many countries around the world today. Ireland also is developing a reputation as a high quality provider of infant formula. A researcher cited that Ireland has only one percent of the world's milk production but produces fifteen percent of the world's infant formula. They were quick to report that New Zealand had an e coli outbreak in milk shipped to China. Middle class Chinese parents, rearing a single child, are willing to pay exorbitant prices for the highest quality food possible and Ireland would love to have a piece of that growing market.

The distance from markets doesn't seem to be an impediment for Irish dairy farmers. Although fluid milk is freely transported to EU countries, the dairy researchers are working on "components" for cheese and other dairy products that can be separated and shipped for thousands of miles. We were given the example that India needs dairy components to fill a need for traditional foods and Ireland is figuring out ways to produce them. Ireland also has peak milk production months due to grazing cows on pasture. They are developing more efficient equipment to make milk powder that can be stored and sold during the three months when production is low.

To Americans, Irish agriculture looks inefficient. Pastures are only a few acres in size and surrounded by rock walls, hedge rows or fences. The roads are narrow (It was best not to look at how close our bus came to the cliffs and cars) so transportation is a challenge for trucks that pick up milk from the many small farms. But consolidating Irish agriculture is going to be a slow process. Our guide said that only one tenth of one percent of Irish farmland sells in any given year. The price is now over ten thousand Euros ($13,800) per acre but much lower than the pre-recession period.

Ireland has a lot of determined farm operators. Their scale is small but their energy is high. Whoever picked the rocks out of the fields and built fences is proof that they have great ambition. The land is good in some regions but shallow and rocky over much of the island. The general workforce seems to be as durable as their agricultural sector. Irish people say they were a third world country until they entered into the European Union in 1973. At that point they began to open their borders to other EU countries and today they talk of driving a truck to Spain like we talk of making a freight run to Texas. The EU developed a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that taxed the people to keep farmers on the land. It has generally been successful but very expensive. Europe's economic woes have caused the EU to reevaluate that policy, hence the likely end to quotas and reduction of subsidies in 2015.

Ireland is a country to watch as they try to put their past behind them and move toward a brighter future based on natural resources and work. It might help if they use some of their luck as well.

  • Parent Category: Blog

What People Put In Their Front Yards

Root of the Problem
By WGFA National Farm Broadcaster, Ken Root

 

What People Put In Their Front Yards

When I drive across the country, down roads both paved and dirt, I find humor and confusion in the items I see in people's front yards. I wonder how they relate to the person, or persons, who live in the house or the image they wish to portray. I don't know what some folks are advertising but it is sure fun to try to figure out.

Pure farmers often see their entire farmstead as a "machinery lot" that can be used as they will it. Parking a tractor in front of the house may indicate it is beloved or for sale. It may have just stopped there the last time it was drug in or ran out of gas and the owner never moved it.

I assume putting things in the side or back yard means you like them and putting them in the front yard means you want to get rid of them, but that's not always so. Stopping and asking if something in the yard is for sale is not impolite but the inquiry is often met with a stare of disbelief that someone else would want what's out there or that you don't understand they are just "resting it" until this valuable asset can be repaired and worked back into the operation.

I have a friend who makes "Yard Art" that he sells at farmers markets. Randy Schnebbe, from Iowa, is a good welder and very creative to the point that I have dubbed him: "Grant Wood of Yard Art" for his creations of rock and steel insects, bottle hanger trees, tipping birds, and other frivolous and fun stuff. He sells a lot of it and it all winds up in folks yards. The bad part about putting one item in your yard is that it gets lonesome. Whether you realize it or not, it is the beginning of a collection. Some folks plant climbing flowers to soften the edges and others just add something that looks even stranger than their first purchase. Randy has been asked to make giant sized insects for those who want to make a real statement. He has a truck and fork lift to help these folks, who are creating their own Jurassic Park, to get things just right. It works for both parties as everyone is smiling as he drives away.

Collecting is problematic enough but I have to address "hoarders" as I really am concerned about the mental state of people when I see a fencerow that is totally filled with tractors or a yard that has so much junk that you can't walk through it. How does this addiction get started and how do you live with a growing heap of rust? The person responsible surely lives alone because two people in marital status or cohabitation of any sort cannot have similar tastes in this area. I have watched "American Pickers" and gotten to know a bit more about some of the folks who have barns and yards full of junk. Some of them have knowledge of every piece and can explain what it is, where they got it, how much they paid and what they would take for it. Some items are so dear that they have no sale price high enough for the owner to part with them.

I don't watch the "Hoarders" show because I can't stand to see that much junk and the people associated with it. It just seems like a psychological problem that has manifested itself upon the countryside.

Maybe this obsession is unusual but you hear about auctions where the owner has died (usually) and the family is selling off a hundred sixty acres of tractors. How much money was invested in that machinery? Was there ever an enterprise envisioned so that it didn't become a boneyard?

Coming from Oklahoma, we had a lot of junk but we had a means of dealing with it on our farm. We pulled it "over the hill". This terminology was accurate on two fronts. The farm machinery, cars and trucks were no longer running and they were also out of sight. My father sold scrap iron in the 1930's to get a little cash but said the Japanese shot it back at us during WWII, so he never sold anything from that point to his death in 2000. As a result, the back part of the farm was like a trip through time. The first horse drawn planters, hay rakes, plows, trucks and cars were pulled into ditches so stop erosion. Stoves, refrigerators, washing machines and all forms of home appliances were dropped into the eroded earth and soon covered by the mobile red dirt. Someday, there will be an excavation that will allow paleontologists to confirm the existence of "Okie Junk Man" and theorize about his lifestyle.

The cure to most of this junk problem is to recycle. I toured a landfill that had a chipper running at twenty five hundred horsepower. It could eat a pickup (minus the engine) in twenty two seconds. The pieces came off about the size of a cell phone and a magnet picked up all that were steel. A force field machine, that I did not understand, was able to make aluminum jump out of the stream of steel and dirt and into a hopper a few inches away. There were also bins of copper and other types of metal that were being prepared to resell. However, my mood changed a few days later as I was talking to the USDA's Ag Statistician who showed me the list of exports to China. Soybeans led the value list, closely followed by scrap copper and steel. Let's hope my father's fears are unfounded in the twenty first century.

  • Parent Category: Blog

The Last Slice of Americana?

Root of the Problem
By WGFA National Farm Broadcaster, Ken Root

Rural communities are shrinking in size and the traditions and values of the past are not guaranteed in the future. Ken Root attended the funeral of a lady who was part of the structure of a church and farming community that, like her, is passing away.

Family members walked down the center aisle of the small Catholic Church, each carrying a rose that they placed in a vase below the cremains of "Granny Franny" whose life was being celebrated on this clear summer day. Her family, from husband, James, to great grandchildren, were all tucked into the first five rows. The priests, one retired and one active, came in to perform the Mass as the community compressed themselves into every pew to show their respect for this lady who had served food and provided support and comfort for baptisms and weddings as well as the many wakes and funerals that are part of an aging community.

What we have experienced for over a century, from the dry plains to the lush hills along the rivers, is disappearing. We have been served a rich slice of a unique culture that is fading away with the death of each resident of our small towns. The ritual of community service, life-long dedication to friends and quiet respect for those who pass, is a hallmark of rural existence. I saw it first hand in this small town as I mourned with family and felt their strength and unity.

In a broader view, the town of Glen Haven sits below the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Southwest Wisconsin. There is one main street reaching from the old river port up the hill. The single white spire on the church is the high point in town. A stream tumbles along Main Street, inviting children to play in the clear water.

Nestled in a notch in the hills on a long slope running down to water's edge, the town no longer has any river business except the boaters who come over for Taco Wednesday at a local bar. A railway main line runs close to the shore. Frequent whistles are heard as millions of tons of freight zoom by but the trains never stop in what would otherwise be a very quiet little town.

Glen Haven's population has declined for a long time. The 2000 census showed fewer than five hundred, probably half the number who lived there at the beginning of the last century. Today, the town folks say you can cut that in half again, even if you count all the dogs and cats.

Longevity is hallmark of rural people. The tough survive and the length of life of our seniors of the northern states is the highest in the nation. Franny and James lived on a farm for their fifty four years of marriage. He has lived near this town, on this Century Farm, his whole life and farmed until he crossed into his seventies. He possesses many pioneer skills and still tinkers in his shop, entertaining visitors who want to learn some of what he knows.

In this German and Irish Catholic region, the tribute to a departed soul begins with a wake and ends with a funeral dinner. The small church basement serves as a kitchen and the word goes out that desserts are needed and cooks and servers should congregate to stage the meal. On the afternoon of the visitation, or wake, the line of friends stretches from the front sidewalk through the entryway and down the right hand side of the pews. It then curls around to where the family greets each person. They stand for hours to receive condolences and support. Handshakes, hugs and heartfelt thanks abound.

On the day of the funeral, the church was adorned with flowers and pews were marked to accommodate family. The meal preparation began early with some dishes prepared in the church and some brought in and kept warm in big ovens. Simple, tasty and hearty; the same as a Sunday dinner or harvest fare for past generations. It was comfort food to farm folks before the terminology was popularized.

The church bell tolled at 10:30 am. The service opened with a eulogy given by the oldest grandson; the reason why she became known as Granny Franny. His voice was sad but strong as he talked about his memories of his grandmother with nods of agreement and encouragement by all who knew her. He sat down quietly as the service began and moved through a ritualistic Mass that most knew by heart. When it concluded, the priests invited everyone to lunch and they were given the opportunity to go directly to the basement or to the cemetery with assurance there would be food left when they returned.

The service at the graveside was short. It was the final Christian good-bye that tries to bring closure to death and celebration of life. Respect, even relief, is expressed with reverence and hope of salvation.

The family walked into the church basement filled with conversation and bustling as meat, potatoes, vegetables, salads, milk, lemonade and many other small plates of specialty items were laid out for two lines to pass through. Old tables and flimsy folding chairs rattled as each place was filled. A young woman did double duty. She had been a Mass server in a white robe, now, in summer attire, she carries tea pitchers and goes from guest to guest.

Finally, attention focuses on the two dessert tables. They so full it is hard to choose just one piece of cake or pie. A lady cuts angel food cake and eats a bit of the leftovers from each slice. Others are recommending a certain peach, apple or blueberry pie. There is one server gone from their midst, the little woman that this day is about, but they don't outwardly show their sadness. They turn to joy of friendship and fellowship as a meal is shared.

The funeral goers spilled out onto the lawn where large maples and oaks shade the warm summer afternoon. Picnic tables allowed fellowship and a cool breeze to flow by. The widower farmer shows more comfort here and he is surrounded by sisters, daughters, sons and a swarm of grandchildren.

On the trip back from the cemetery, riding with his two sisters and niece, we drove by the family farm and noted the sweet corn was ready. Later the family picked it and we spent a couple of hours that night in boiling, blanching, cutting and freezing the crop. Some will go back to the farm as they visit in weeks to come and some will go with the relatives who live in distant cities to remind them of the life of Granny Franny.

When will the last of this generation be gone? Will the next have any similarity to their ancestors? We cannot go back to live in our past. Most of us would not do so but to experience this culture, even in decline, creates a memory that can be extended for one more lifetime even if the town cannot.