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.)


“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.)

Physikgesäubert vs. chemiegesäubert

“Cleaned by physics vs. cleaned by chemistry.” In the late 1990’s, to this tourist, it appeared that U.S. appliances were designed so that ever-more-sophisticated soaps and/or soap marketing would get laundry clean, while German appliances were designed to use physics to get laundry clean. The latter had gotten so good at it that for years they’d been competing by promising not cleaner clothes but to reduce the electricity and especially water required to do a load of wash.

The fabrics in clothing sold in 1990’s Germany were much higher quality than the kleenex clothes sold in the U.S.A.: thicker, stronger, less likely to wrinkle. At the time I thought this was because German consumers complained before purchases more, both to each other and to the stores*, but perhaps it was also due to post-purchase complaining after clothes designed to be worn twice and soap-laundered dissatisfied chatty consumers rather egregiously when worn four times and agitation-laundered.

In both countries, water in rural creeks and rivers formed persistent foam that did look like soap bubbles, originally white but turning yellow with dust as it was carried downstream. But friends said this was caused not by household soaps but by artificial fertilizers in runoff from farmers’ fields.

(Fizz EEK geh ZOY bat   vair seuss   chhem EE geh ZOY bat.)

*   “Are you trying to verarsch me with that see-through, pilly, short-fiber cotton?”

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