Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Blog Action Day: The Jersey Tomato is Hurtin Too!

jersey tomatoThis summer Georgia and other southwestern states emerged from their prolonged drought by experiencing the nightmare of devastating floods.  It was shocking to see how volatile and changeable the climate of that region was becoming.  I counted my blessings that I lived in New Jersey because our moderate climate saved us from living through those types of extreme weather events.

During the summer my wife and I took a trip to Northern California.  We hiked through the dwindling Redwood forests and scaled peaks in Lassen Volcano National Park.   It’s beauty was at times overwhelming.  One afternoon we took a dip in the pristine Yuba River but we had to cut that short due to the raging 49er fire that destroyed over 50 homes and businesses.  We were happy to return home to New Jersey where the problems posed by wild fires and exceedingly dry climate are not that  great a threat.

In addition to a temperate climate another benefit New Jersey offers its residents is the famous Jersey Tomato.  Those with discerning pallets eagerly await the end of summer when farmers begin the harvest and bring to market the agricultural crown jewel of the Garden State, our beloved Jersey Tomato.  It is big, juicy and luscious.  It doesn’t require a sandwich or Hogi to sit upon.  Its is great with a touch of basil leaf or sitting a top a slice of fresh mootz, that Jersey slang for mozzarella cheese.  You can make an entire meal of it if you add some crusty Hoboken brick oven bread.  Yes, Jersey at its culinary lip smacking best.

One Saturday morning my wife returned from Abma’s Farm in Wycoff with the devastating news that their would be no Jersey Tomatoes this year.  Unusually excessive rainfall across the region had destroyed much of the crop.  We would have to do without our much looked forward to annual treat.  I was crushed.  I started to do a bit of research into this degustibus disaster.

I discovered that Jersey farmers are coping with heavy crop losses after steady summer rains saturated fields, creating an environment ripe for overgrown weeds, rot and disease.   The downpours damaged crops, from tomatoes, green bell peppers and corn, to barley, peaches and watermelon, decimating whole crops or severely reducing yield.

Wilfred Shamlin of The Courier Post reported on the economic impact the unusual weather had on some of the states farmers.  His report is an important anecdotal record of the economic distress changing weather patterns can cause.  The observations and quotes from farmers directly effected by this years extreme weather change is an important testimony on the risk of climate change and its impact on crop yields and economic solvency of small farmers agricultural businesses.

“The rains have just killed me this year,” said Tucker Gant, 51, a vegetable and fruit farmer in Elk, who estimates his total losses this year at nearly $220,000.

In Mullica Hill, Fred Grasso, 52, said late frost damaged his peaches and rot ran through his tomatoes, green bell peppers, zucchini and watermelon.  “Nobody has ever seen rain as drastic as this year, even talking to old-time farmers,” said Grasso, a third-generation farmer who estimates losses so far at roughly $50,000.

“Weeds are a big issue, especially in a wet year. When it’s time to cultivate, you can’t and when you finally get in there and cultivate, and it rains day after day, weeds set in and reroot because of the moisture,” Grasso said.  “Weeds steal nutrients from crops, grow tall and block out sunlight, and prevent plants from drying out after rainfall. And constant rain creates problem because the weeds grow faster and herbicides get washed away before they work.”

“It’s never been that bad as far as I can remember,” said Gant, pointing to water pooling in a field as he drove his pickup truck along a bumpy dirt trail toward 35 acres of barley overrun by tall weeds. “I have never seen water lay there more than two days. It should have been harvested, but you can’t harvest weeds taller than barley.”  Blueberry and peaches thrived in the wet weather but the same disease responsible for the Irish potato famine attacked South Jersey’s tomato crops.

“Farmers’ yields will be down this year because a lot of fruit out there wasn’t able to be marketed,” said Michelle Casella, an agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension for Gloucester County.   Gov. Jon S. Corzine has requested that 15 counties be declared disaster areas by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after rain, hail, wind and even a tornado caused crop and property damage across the state. The designation would allow farmers with severe weather-related losses to apply for emergency low-interest loans.

This year’s hay crop was such poor quality that Gant marked down the price for landscapers, making 25 cents profit per bale rather than $1.50.   Though struggling, Gant and Grasso are bent on persevering as operating costs continue to climb. Gant’s losses include $30,000 on bales of straw for mom-and-pop stores that order 15,000 bales and sell it as decoration during the holidays. He grew enough straw to make 10,000 bales but he had to buy the remaining 5,000 bales from a neighboring farmer. Crop losses have cut into profits that the Gant and the Grasso family normally would have invested back into the farm. “We have cut every corner we can without hurting the business itself,” Grasso said. “We’re at just about the limit where we can’t cut anymore. I’m trying to conserve.”

Gant said he has depleted his retirement savings and supplements his income by working three days a week repairing tractor-trailers. He often works 16-hour days on the farm. His wife also works full-time.  He has trimmed unnecessary expenses, postponed farm equipment upgrades, and criticizes the federal government for coming to the aid of car dealers and other big businesses, but not farmers.

“Where’s the bailout for farmers?” Gant asked.

“When everything went into the toilet, my costs didn’t go down one bit,” Gant said.

Gant said he would need a $250,000 loan to bail out his farm.

Gant remains optimistic that he can ride out the recession. He’s planting seeds now so he can get barley, rye and wheat next spring.

“We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “I believe in the Lord. I know He’s going to take care of me. That’s one reason I’m confident we can come back.”

As all farmers know, we reap what we sow.  We trust that Mr. Gant’s optimism and faith will help to restore the good fortunes of farmers and the hungry citizens of New Jersey.   We should also view this as an opportunity to begin the sowing the seeds to address the problems of climate change.  Even in an area as blessed as New Jersey.  Farmers livelihoods and a significant portion of the economy of New Jersey depends on the economic viability of small farmers.  I also have a selfish reason to address the threat of climate change.  I continue to crave the  taste of the sweet fruits of our farmers  yields and pray that the Jersey Tomato makes a reappearance on our dinner plates next summer.

This article extensively used the report of Mr. Wilford S. Shamlin at The Courier Post.

To Reach Wilford S. Shamlin at (856) 486-2475 or wshamlin@courierpostonline.com

You Tube Video:  Billie Holiday,Lets Call the Whole Thing Off

Risk; small businesses, farmers, agriculture, climate, Jersey Tomato

Riskrapper is pleased to participate in this years Blog Action Day.  The subject is climate change.  We hope you enjoyed the post.

More than 7000 bloggers have registered to participate and thousands more will join in the next 24 hours. There’s already buzz growing across the blogosphere and on Twitter in anticipation, with updates from around the world every minute about the upcoming event.

October 15, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Them There Eyes

“Can I call you Joe?” Sarah Palin asked. A smiling Joe Biden said, “sure”.

The junior partner of the Maverick Luchador tag team had entered the ring. You betcha she was ready.

She did a shout out to Alaskan Third Grade friends and punctuated it with a Garboesque wink.  Sarah saluted her peeps. She offered greetings of solidarity to all hockey moms yearning to be recognized and all Joe six packers apparently looking to get drunk. Its an intriguing political demographic that the party of big money and conservative values needs to bridge to keep hold of the White House. Has the GOP abandoned the Temperance vote and any active AA’ers trying to stay sober today? I question its wisdom given McCain’s abdication of six pack packing Michigan. If the team of Mavericks make their final stand by circling the wagons around the Focus on the Family Headquarters in Colorado Springs no drinking will be allowed.

Another wink and a smile from Sarah that scrappy rascal. She knows something that I don’t and she’s got half the country in on it. I get uneasy for not getting it. But she is a maverick, don’t ya know. And she’s from Alaska. Really, I hadn’t heard. But I do want to know what a maverick is, why we need one and wish to hear fewer proclamations on her governorship of Steward’s Folly. Sorry to be so nosy but I also want a little more information about what she knows about the world, America’s position in it and where Sarah wants to take it.

During the debate I imagined her supporters across the country letting out a collective sigh of relief. Sarah was able to put together a number of coherent and complete sentences. She recited her rehearsed lines with enthusiasm, alacrity and partisan zeal. Not always in the proper order to answer the posed question; but she did recite. It was as if the Arch-Angel Gabriel had grabbed a hold of her and commanded her to recite the gospel of Maverickism. Pull the cord on this Chatty Kathy’s back and hear how Maverickism will save our country from the bad people running the big government while slaying terrorists and assorted evil doers who hate us for our values and freedoms. She stayed on message. The same message that we have heard from W for the past 8 years.

As America watched Sarah on their giant flat screen plasma TVs I sensed a country desperate for an existential connection to a remote government that is more despised then understood, less trusted then condemned, less effective then irrelevant, less pertinent then useful, less representative then self-serving. I believe American’s have transfered its hope onto Sarah because she looks, feels, speaks and thinks more like us then Obama, Biden and McCain. She’s young, brash and ballsy and what American doesn’t worship those qualities? Sarah an American Evita that can tell our story because she is our story.

As Joe and Sarah jawed away, our elected officials were conspiring to flood the public treasury with a raft of IOUs that will accrue debt to generations of countrymen that are yet to be born. So as the politicians redistribute the national debt to future citizens we get to connect to our national destiny with a real life Alice. With Sarah we get to slip through the looking glass to explore a new national fantasy. We seek the banality of the familiar and remain desperate to find ourselves at the close of journey’s end. American’s need confirmation. We demand to be affirmed with a soothing rationalization that we are good people doing good things. Sarah assures us that we have found it in her. She is living proof and our fondest hope of our common American exceptionalism.

Refusing to answer questions put forth by the gotcha liberal media; Sarah repeated her maverick pronouncements. Don’t ya know she’s from Alaska? Sarah choose not to answer. She would only debate on her terms. She claimed her entitlement to live above the rules imposed by the evil liberal media as she asked her countrymen to take personal responsibility for their actions. A bit of a contradiction. I believe it to be an unfortunate contradiction because personal responsibility is a republican virtue that all American’s should emulate. But sadly this lipstick wearing hockey mom’s insistence on her radical entitlement bereft of any responsibility or accountability has been a hall mark of all recent republicanism. It is a dangerous behavior that has led this nation into our current mess of unmanageable debt, economic duress and the growing global isolation of America.

Yes she’s a plucky and sexy lipstick wearing hockey mom who couldn’t drive her kids to practice this week because she’s been too busy rehearsing her lines for this debate. Supported by her husband “the first iron dogging dude” we are regaled with tales of his circumnavigation of the arctic circle with nothing more then a 5 gallon can of hi test and a pound of free range moose jerky cured in his home built smoke house. Such characters of extreme normality performing extraordinary feats make it difficult for us to distinguish legend from myth. Spectacle trumps substance and a parade of heroes is nothing more then a pedestrian tramp through the local strip mall.

At the close of the debate I grew uneasy as Sarah seemed to use her 8 month old autistic child as a theatrical prop. Her older daughter is always seen dutifully carrying her infant brother on stage so she can lift his arm and wave it to adoring fans. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think a political debate is a suitable place for an 8 month old infant at 11:00PM. But Sarah’s a maverick and I guess thats what maverick’s do with their children. I hope she doesn’t mistake the child for a beanie baby and list it on ebay after the election.

So as America looks lovingly into Sarah’s eyes she winks back an impish encouragement. “Drill Baby Drill” Sarah cheers her full commitment to America’s future and extols the virtues of a national amnesia that asks her countrymen to forget about the past. She says let’s not fix blame lets fix the problem. In response, Joe Biden stated the past is prologue to the present. Wisdom is a child of experience, study and contemplation.

Sarah putting aside bipartisan dialog took the opportunity to incant a republican mantra and channel the ghost of Ronald Reagan from the 1980’s. Said Sarah, “there you go again Joe, bringing up the past.” Wink wink nod smile snicker. Unfortunately her timing was off on the delivery of this mother of all cliches. Thirty years to be exact. If only she waited a bit longer. A pause of silence. Some bit of reflection. Without some deliberation or assessment of where we are Sarah is well on her way to building a bridge from nowhere.

At this critical juncture in American history we cannot afford our leaders to turn a blind eye to the mistakes and disastrous stewardship of our past and current leaders. Americans must insist on leaders that have foresight based on an understanding of how we got to where we are and offer a clear vision that can lead America and its partners across a bridge to the future.

Our vigilance won’t allow us to be hoodwinked and suffer the truism that “a wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse.”

You Tube Music Video; Billie Holiday: Them There Eyes

Risk: One Heart Beat Away

October 4, 2008 Posted by | elections, jazz, Palin, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pennies from Heaven

Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have changed their charters and are now bank holding companies. I believe this was necessary for Goldman and Morgan Stanley to have access to Federal bailout money in the newly proposed bank workout plan.

Paulson insists that we must move with great dispatch. I get nervous when these types of transactions occur with such velocity that I have a hard time understanding the value proposition. After all, if me and my countrymen are being asked to belly up to the bar and put $1Trillion into the game I want more of an understanding then believing Chris Dodd has seen the horror if we don’t act and it ain’t pretty.

Couple of questions:

Does this allow Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to purchase commercial banks? Will Goldman and Morgan be opening up S&L’s and local community banks? If that is the case should we allow them to take over the management of the banking system considering their poor track records of managing investment banks? A disturbing characteristic of our managed economy is that the more colossal the failure the greater reward is bestowed.

Second question is a small technicality. Paulson’s suggestion to segregate good bank assets and bad bank assets centers around FAS:157 Level Three Assets. If the current holders of these assets cannot value them now, how will the Treasury acquire them from the failed banks and at what value will they carry them on their books? We should also assume that since the US Treasury will want to sell these assets how will it know its getting a good price or “fair value” when it liquidates its position?

Will Level Three assets be used as collateral for the new bank holding companies capitalization requirements? If these assets are not performing now, how can we assume these assets will perform in times of “real economic duress” to meet defaults in the future?

Level Three Assets are principally the CLO, MBS and Credit Default Swaps (CDS) that lie at the root of this crisis. If they functioned as they should, all credit risk should have been hedged out of the system and we should not be experiencing this economic crisis because of insurance CDS provided. Seems to me that the CDS were more snake oil then insurance. If they didn’t work when they were needed (see AIG) why would the US Treasury think there will be a market for them in the future?

Will the investment banks and financial engineers who enriched themselves on the creation and sales of CDS instruments be required to return the money they earned in commissions on the sale of this worthless junk?

Just asking.

Music: Billie Holiday with Lester Young: Pennies from Heaven

Risk: bank, managed economy, bank capitalization,

September 22, 2008 Posted by | banking, credit crisis, FASB, jazz, Paulson, TARP | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment