Iowa, Oil and Agriculture-- Meet Francis Thicke, Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

(I enjoyed the diary and the video tour of Thicke's farm after the jump. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Who is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture?  The answer to that question is, and has always been:  whichever faithful servant of Big Agriculture was keeping the chair warm and keeping Monsanto,  Koch and Cargill happy, Democrat or Republican.  (Currently, it's a guy who loves chicken factories.)  An urban dweller, I didn't think that the Ag Secretary had anything to do with me. 

A few months ago, I met Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer who is running for Secretary of Agriculture, and he changed my mind about that.   I have begun to grasp how this official affects the food I eat, the quality of the air and rivers where I live, and waters far downstream from Iowa.  I have even begun to hope for change in the way we produce food and use energy in Iowa, where we often set the example for farming practices across the country.

  Francis Thicke (pronounced “tickee”) has an organic dairy farm near Fairfield, Iowa, a small community best known as the home of Maharishi University.   Francis and his wife, Susan, make milk, yogurt and cheese with the milk from his 80 cows, and sell all of it locally.  Although he grew up on a farm, Francis wanted to be a musician.  He studied music and philosophy in college, and plays a mean trumpet.  But eventually he got a doctorate in agronomy instead, worked at the USDA, then came back to Iowa to start a dairy farm. 

 Radiance Dairy is no ordinary farm.  Livestock and landscape nourish each other.  Everything the cows eat is grown on land they fertilize, and as Francis says, they enjoy their work.  He uses solar panels to power pumps for water , to electrify fences, and to heat water for his dairy processing plant.  A wind turbine is in the works.  His operation is so innovative that he attracts visitors who come to learn, from local schoolchildren to the World Bank, and he travels frequently to teach and give lectures.   He has received awards from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, which recognized him as a “Steward of the Land,” among other awards.  People who know him regard him as a national treasure.

more below the fold… 

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A National Renewable Ammonia Architecture

( - promoted by desmoinesdem)

  I've been laying low for the last little bit but I swear I haven't been slacking – I cranked out a 2,500 word white paper describing a National Renewable Ammonia Architecture. This is headed for an appearance on [http://theoildrum.com The Oil Drum] and I think it'll be up tomorrow but now that it's done I'm itchy for people to read and comment.

  So, please wade right into my renewable fertilizer wonkery below the fold …

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Ammonia Production Methods Update

   Ammonia, chemical formula NH3, is a caustic (but not toxic) gas at room temperature and pressure but it is easily stored under moderate pressure just as propane is. It is used as an industrial chemical, both directly and indirectly as a fertilizer, and there is a growing movement to use ammonia as a fuel; it is the only carbon free hydrogen carrier we can make and handle with today's technology.

   I've been working in this area for the last ten months and I thought I'd provide a little overview of how the stuff is made and where we need to go next to ensure our food supply and begin the transition to this clean hydrogen carrier as a fuel.

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Rural development "got the very short end of the stick" in Farm Bill

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore

I learned today from the Public News Service that Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs

has done an analysis of the 2008 Farm Bill, and found 233 times more spending on commodity subsidies than on rural development.

“Initiatives that would help start businesses, create jobs, make communities attractive places for people to relocate to, were left out of the farm bill.”

In contrast, Bailey notes, the Farm Bill allocates $35 billion for commodity subsidies, which makes the amount for revitalizing rural areas seem paltry.

“There are only three programs totaling $150 million for rural development in the final Farm Bill. Rural development got the very short end of the stick.”

Bailey noted that the 2002 Farm Bill included “more than $1 billion in mandatory spending for rural development programs.”

If you go to this page at the Center for Rural Affairs, you can find a link to a pdf version of the full report.

As much as I admire Senator Tom Harkin, I was very disappointed by how the Farm Bill (officially known as the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008) turned out. I have no idea what can be done to get Congress to redirect government funding toward sustainable farming practices and programs that improve the quality of life in rural areas.

Meanwhile, Susan Heathcote, the water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council and a member of the state Environmental Protection Commission, wrote a good guest editorial for the Des Moines Register about the need for better monitoring of drinking-water sources.

She mentioned two recent incidents of conventional farming polluting drinking water in the Des Moines area. Farms 80 miles upstream contributed to high ammonia levels found in the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers last spring, and a cyanobacteria “algae bloom” prompted the Des Moines Water Works to stop drawing from the Raccoon River in August.

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