Die Spargelzeit

Asparagus time!

Asparagus season is a culinary celebration in Germany, between bärlauch and cherries. The long thick glowing white stalks of German asparagus have to be hand-cultivated under impressive mounds of dirt to keep the sun from turning them green. Once harvested, they are sold almost like truffles, except cheaper and there’s enough for everyone.

White asparagus is good alone with sauce hollandaise (made from scratch, it’s easy if only you can get the right ingredients), with fish, with fresh small spring potatoes. Save the peelings and trimmings to boil in water for asparagus soup (remove boiled peelings and trimmings then puree the broth with cream, some chicken bouillon, salt, pepper, garnish with fresh herbs at the last minute). Serve with chilled dry white German wine in those short round bottles.

Key words for white asparagus include “tender.” It gets woody if it’s too old or if it’s cooked too long, which is a bit counterintuitive. Asparagus marketed as “crisp” might already be woody.

(Dee    SHPOG ell tsight.)

Minderung der Monokulturen

Reduction of monocultures in E.U. agriculture.

At 40% of their annual expenditures, agriculture is the E.U.’s biggest budget item, and it underwent some rational-sounding changes in 2013. The E.U. agricultural reforms agreed in the Agricultural Committee on 26 Jun 2013 started a shift in subventions, disincentivizing “ecologically problematic and optically wasteland-like monocultures,” according to ARD tagesschau.de. Subventions to large monocultures were to be reduced, with small and medium-sized farms being required to plant at least three different crops. “Greening” actions will have to be carried out by farmers in order to receive the 30% of subventions newly contingent on “environmentalization” steps, penalizing farmers who don’t enact the measures by two years after the new rules come into effect. Apparently the new measures encourage grasslands, and 5% of farmers’ land is to be kept free of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Individual countries will now have the right to reduce subventions paid to large agribusinesses receiving >150,000 euros/year and increase subventions to small and mid-sized farms and young farmers <41 years old. Bug fixes: A blacklist will be drawn up of landed entities such as airports and sports clubs (i.e. golf) that will now have to prove they get substantial income from farming before they can receive farming subsidies in future. Previous erroneous multiple extra payments to farmers, so-called “double funding,” should now be eliminated. The European Parliament’s press release on the agreement concludes with the next steps for the reform: the long-term financial framework (M.F.F., multiannual financial framework) for the reform has to be worked out, after which the reform can move on to the Council for the countries’ leaders to approve. ARD tagesschau.de said in June 2013 that their approval was considered certain.

These reforms passed at the E.U. level on 25 Sep 2013.

Update on 05 Nov 2013: E.U. farm subventions are to be distributed in Germany according to a new system (Schlüssel: key or code) agreed by the German state agricultural ministers. ARD tagesschau.de said the size of the farm is no longer supposed to be the main criterion. This will shift subvention money from large farms in the former East Germany to small and medium-sized operations (“<46 hectares”). Brussels will now be sending 6.2 billion euros in farm subsidies to Germany per year, a reduction of about 10%. Also, “new environmentally-friendly programs will be paid for from the highly-contested budget for direct payments.” German farmers and their union, the Deutscher Bauernverband, said the security of knowing what monies will be coming to them in the next few years helps make up for the fact that it’s less money.

Update on 12 Nov 2013: The E.U. Parliament and E.U. Member States passed a budget planning to spend ~135.5 billion euros total in 2014, that’s ~9 billion euros less than in 2013, with >43 billion going directly to farmers.

(MINNED ah roong   dare   mon oh cool TOUR en.)

Kali-Kartell

“Potassium cartel.”

Update on 05 Aug 2013: Supposedly ~70% of the world potassium trade has been controlled by two export alliances, BPC in Russia and Canpotex in North America. The world price for potassium was kept at a “comfortable” ~$400/ton. Last summer a Russian potassium company, Uralkali, made a surprise exit from the BPC export alliance (BPC stands for Belarus Potash Company), and the potassium price then fell to ~$300/ton. The stock price of e.g. the K+S potassium and salts company in northern Hesse fell precipitously as well.

Update on 24 Oct 2013: Spiegel.de posted an amazing potassium follow-up: “A kingdom for a cartel. Lukaschenko’s battle with the oligarch.” After the Russian firm Uralkali abruptly ended their BPC cooperation with the Belarussian firm Belaruskali last summer, Belarussian Prime Minister Lukaschenko had Uralkali’s C.E.O., Wladislaw Baumgertner, arrested in Minsk, where he is still held by authorities though he was moved to house arrest in late September.

Since the split it’s been shown how dependent the White Russian state company was on its Russian partners: exports to India and China were considerable but have nearly ended because, White Russian sources said, Belaruskali’s sales personnel don’t have the English to keep their Indian and Chinese deliveries on Russian trains running? In addition to its dependence on Russian trains, White Russia remains dependent on Russian oil and gas. White Russian potassium mines have been experiencing temporary closures since the cartel ended. As the company’s revenues fall so do the state’s; Mr. Lukaschenko had been using the potassium company’s money to fill the government’s budget gaps.

Spiegel.de wrote that Uralkali and Belaruskali started working together in 2005 to help keep international potassium prices high, together controlling ~40% of the world market in 2012 for potassium salts, which are used to make artificial fertilizers. World potassium prices had peaks of as much as $900/ton, yet White Russia is now forced to try to attract nearby customers in Russia with prices around $140/ton, forcing the Russian competitor Uralkali to counteroffer $160/ton for domestic customers.

More historical background provided in the article: Uralkali is controlled by major shareholder Suleiman Kerimow (worth >$7 billion) who bought his interest from another oligarch in 2010. He was also interested in acquiring Belaruskali from Mr. Lukaschenko, who not only did not sell but announced that Mr. Kerimow had offered a purchase price of $10 billion to the government plus an additional $5-billion bribe to Mr. Lukaschenko. When the purchase offer was made is unclear from the Spiegel.de article but the nature of the gossip flying indicates it was before the BPC alliance ended.

(CAWL ee   cawt ELL.)

Saatgutrichtlinie

“Seeds guideline.” The European Commission voted on 06 May 2013 to accept draft proposals for new regulations for harvested agricultural products that are going to be used as seed. The new rule requires seeds to be registered and tested before they are sold, perhaps including for genetic modifications and the virulent E. coli O104:H4 strain that turned out to be in salad sprouts seed in 2011.

(ZOTT goot RICHHT lean ee ya.)

Gießkannenprinzip

“Watering can principle,” in which subventions are distributed evenly throughout a group without regard to individual needs or priorities, a principle some European arms exporters say they won’t follow if allowed to resume exporting weapons to Syrian rebels. They say they will only give guns to good guys. The UK and France don’t want to renew the EU’s embargo on Syrian arms shipments, which is about to expire.

Update on 27 May 2013: Because the member states could not reach a unanimous decision, the EU embargo on sending more weapons to Syrian rebels will expire. The UK indicated they were only proposing voting against renewal of the embargo because they want to increase pressure on the Assad family (which is currently fighting to the death, of all its members, unless they agree to a better solution at the upcoming peace talks in Switzerland). We shall see whether France and the UK now indeed export more weapons to that corner of the world.

(GEESE Cannes en prints EEP.)

Eierlegende Wollmilchsau

“Egg-laying wool milk sow,” a product that can do everything.

(EYE er laig end eh   VOLL milchh zow!.)

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