The Organic Price Premium

The Organic Price PremiumWe’ve all seen it at the grocery store—organic food can be shockingly expensive! Price premiums vary by product, ranging from a mere 7% premium above conventional prices for organic spinach to an 82% premium for organic eggs.

The organic price premium debate has gone on for over a decade now. Some experts claim that the costs outweigh the benefits, while others say that the premium is the only way organic farmers can receive a fair wage.


Why is Organic Food So Expensive?

There are many reasons that organic food costs more to produce than conventional food, which in turn raises the price. Some factors include:

  • The three-year transition period for converting conventional farmland to organic.
  • Smaller size of most organic operations, which has a negative effect on economies of scale.
  • Greater labor inputs.
  • Higher stewardship standards, which require expensive practices such as erosion control and rotational cover-cropping.
  • Lower yields.
  • Limited supply compared to demand.
  • Larger cut typically reserved to the farmer for his living.

The three-year transition process, in particular, is tricky for producers seeking organic certification. They have to use organic practices while accepting commodity prices that entire time, investing in new equipment and learning new farming methods at the same time. The good news is that this dilemma has led to the creation of certified transitional programs.


Is There Truly a Premium?

With this mind, do organic products actually receive a premium, or are the higher prices merely reflective of higher costs? There probably is a premium in many cases. The FAO notes that, in developing countries, food that is produced organically but that is not certified organic is often sold locally at the same price as conventional food. Prices for organic food in developing countries, the FAO states, tend to depend on “the specific consumer willingness to pay.”

Reasons some consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for organic include:

  • Food safety.
  • Enhanced nutrition.
  • Better flavor.
  • Environmental benefits.

It is interesting to note that farmers’ market managers observe a different attitude toward price premiums among the participating farmers than is seen at grocery and health-food stores (see page 10 of this USDA report). At markets offering both organic and conventional produce, many organic farmers do not routinely charge a premium. Premiums are typically charged for something out of the ordinary:

  • Exceptional quality.
  • A rare type of produce.
  • Food sold at an upscale market.


The Downside of the Premium

That price premium can be a deterrent to shoppers, particularly during times of economic hardship. Expense is one of the top reasons organic buyers return to conventional food. Also, low-income families frequently cannot afford whole grains or fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats—let alone organic equivalents.


Trends in Organic Food Pricing

Currently, the high demand fostered by improving economic conditions is keeping the premium in place. While organic food was once decidedly a niche product, about two thirds of American shoppers now buy organic products at least occasionally. The demand is evidently strong enough that in 2016 Costco determined that it was worthwhile to offer organic farmers loans and financing for land and equipment in exchange for the first pick of all produce grown on the farm.

As organic food becomes more mainstream and the supply increases, however, the prices will likely start to decrease. The USDA notes that already three out of every four grocery stores carry some organic products. As evidenced by Costco’s move, stores are increasingly seeking out greater supplies to meet their demand. If organic truly becomes commonplace, the premium may become a thing of the past.

3 Guitar Exercises for Finger Independence

3 Guitar Exercises for Finger IndependencePlaying the guitar requires flexible fingers. Fortunately, left-hand agility is a skill that can be acquired and improved with practice. These tried-and-true exercises will help you sharpen that skill.

Note that you may not be as proficient in these exercises as you might like the first few times out. Always challenge yourself, but respect your physical limits at the same time. Finger fatigue is normal, but pain is not—if at any point in any exercise you feel pain, stop immediately! Your tolerance to these exercises will improve over time.

The following exercises are excellent for warming up prior to practice. However, any finger exercise routine that works for you is ideal.

#1—The Tennis Ball Stretch

This super-simple warm-up is probably the most effective of all the exercises listed in this post. If you are having any difficulty with hard stretches across the fretboard, the tennis ball stretch can work wonders.

Wrap your left hand around a tennis ball and squeeze just until you feel the ball give a little. Hold that pressure for 30 seconds. Important: Do not maintain the pressure for any longer than 30 seconds!

Repeat with the right hand, if desired. This stretch is good for right-hand flexibility and strength, too.

#2—Vertical Character Builders

Plant your middle, ring, and pinky fingers on the second, third, and fourth frets, respectively, of the third string. Imagine that they are firmly fixed there with roots that grow all the way to the back of the guitar neck, leaving only your index finger free to move. Keeping a brisk but steady rhythm, play the following:

  1. 5th string, 1st fret.
  2. 2nd string, 1st fret.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. 6th string, 1st fret.
  5. 1st string, 1st fret.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  7. Repeat the entire sequence.

Feel free to play this slowly until you get the knack of the movement.

Now root your index finger and let your middle finger do the work, repeating the exercise on the second fret. Follow up with the ring finger on the third fret and the pinky finger on the fourth fret.

#3—Horizontal Character Builders

Root your index finger on the sixth string, first fret. Play a series of hammer-ons, using the first fret as the first note and using your middle finger to play the second note. Each time you play a hammer-on, keep your index finger rooted in the starting position and stretch one fret farther with your middle finger. Thus the first note will stay the same throughout the exercise, while the second note will change sequentially:

  1. 2nd fret the first time.
  2. 3rd fret the second time.
  3. 4th fret the third time.
  4. So on until you can’t stretch any farther.

Once you have reached your limit, use hammer-ons to walk your second finger back down the fretboard until you are again at the second fret. Re-root your index finger on the fifth string, first fret, and start again. Then go on to the fourth string, working up through all the strings of the guitar and back down to the sixth string again.

Repeat this exercise with the ring and then the pinky finger doing the work. Then try rooting the middle finger on the second fret and stretching with the ring and pinky fingers. Finally, plant the ring finger on the third fret and stretch with the pinky.

Always strive to play in rhythm with this and other exercises.

Helpful Resource

Gripmaster Finger Exerciser
Now you can improve your finger independence even when you don’t have your guitar in hand! This great little device will help you develop greater hand strength, as well.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom VegetablesThe world of heirloom vegetables is a fascinating one, full of unique colors and traditional flavors.

While saving seeds from heirloom plants can be as simple as collecting whatever is available, best results will be obtained from attention to good breeding practices. Proper selection of breeding stock will ensure generations of vigorous seeds that produce delicious harvests.


What’s Your Goal?

There are two main purposes for breeding heirloom vegetables:

  • To preserve a rare or historic plant variety.
  • To raise plants adapted to your unique situation.

It is important to determine your purpose right at the beginning, because each objective requires a different focus when selecting the plants that will produce the next generation of seed. Preserving a variety requires a conservative approach, taking steps to avoid altering the gene pool in any way. Raising adapted vegetable genetics requires a progressive approach, actively shaping the gene pool to meet your needs.


Preserving a Variety

If variety conservation is your goal, then your breeding philosophy must be to avoid altering the historic gene pool in any way. This can be surprisingly challenging, as there are many ways to inadvertently shift the genetics. The tendency of this shift will be toward plants that are adapted to your specific gardening conditions in the specific year that the parent plants were grown. While this adaptation process has advantages, it also has disadvantages—you may need different genetics in a different year, or you may wish to share seeds with gardeners with different growing conditions. Either way, a broad gene pool with a great deal of variation is desired for conservation purposes.

To maintain a broad genetic base, you must start by choosing a variety already well adapted to your conditions. A variety not suited to your environment or gardening practices will likely have a high mortality rate. The surviving plants will only be those with adapted genetics, thus altering the gene pool.

You will need to grow many plants in each generation to ensure a broad genetic base and avoid inbreeding problems. You may only need five plants for a healthy generation of self-pollinating species such as peppers, while tricky species prone to inbreeding like corn may require you to grow over 100 plants. Each plant must be nurtured to maturity and allowed to produce a crop of seeds if at all possible.

Culling must be kept to a bare minimum. Only cull the following plants:

  • Those that are clearly diseased and thus will likely spread infection to other plants.
  • Those that are not true to type and thus not representative examples of the variety.

To avoid inadvertently giving preference to some plants, equal amounts of seed should be saved from each individual plant.


Raising Adapted Plant Genetics

Heirloom vegetable varieties can easily be selected for better performance in your garden with no need for hybridizing. All you have to do is create your own strain within the variety.

A good way to start when developing a locally adapted strain is by making a list of characteristics that you want to see in your plants (for best results, start with only two or three traits max). Such characteristics might include:

  • Drought tolerance.
  • Pest or disease resistance.
  • Resistance to bolting.
  • High yields.
  • Uniform fruits.
  • Excellent flavor.

When choosing the parent plants, cull those that do not display the characteristics that you desire. Deliberately expose your plants to climatic vagaries to allow nature to sort out the best low-maintenance plant genetics (just be sure to allow them to recover in time to produce a healthy seed crop). Mark the most adapted plants with pieces of ribbon so that you can identify them when it is time to collect the seed. Favor exceptional plants when saving seeds—well-adapted plants will typically produce the most seed anyway.

However, be careful not to narrow your vegetable gene pool too quickly, or the plants may start to lose vigor due to inbreeding. If you select too aggressively, you may accidentally make your plants less adapted to years with unusual climatic conditions. There are several easy ways to keep the gene pool broad and healthy without sacrificing your objectives:

  • Start with a variety that has a great deal of genetic variation to begin with.
  • Raise numerous parent plants in each generation.
  • Include a few seeds from the original strain in every planting.


A Few Final Hints

To keep your motivation levels high, start simple and give yourself some leeway to learn about plant selection and seed saving. Begin with only one or two varieties, and choose those from species that are easy to work with. Plants that mostly self-pollinate are ideal. Some good plants to practice with include:

Keep good records. Mark your rows and label your bags and envelopes of seeds. This is particularly important if you grow more than one variety of the same species.

Most importantly, only grow plants that you enjoy. If you don’t like eating beets, don’t grow beets. If indeterminate tomatoes and pole beans are just too much hassle for you, it won’t matter that they have superior flavor. Trade them in for determinate tomatoes and bush beans—there are still plenty of tasty varieties of those plants out there!

Beef Cattle Talk: A Glosssary

Beef Cattle Talk: A GlossaryNo matter what type of cattle they raise and in what way, cattle producers speak a slightly different language than everyday American English. To the newbie, this peculiar vocabulary can be baffling.

Allow us to elucidate a few of the most common terms:


  • 3 in 1: A pregnant cow with a calf at her side.
  • AI: Short for artificial insemination.
  • All natural: Raised without antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.
  • Backgrounding: The process of growing a weaned calf to prepare it for finishing. The increase in size that results from backgrounding is primarily due to the development of bone and muscle, not fattening.
  • Base weight: The estimated net weight of a group of cattle on delivery day. Used to calculate final sales price.
  • Body condition score: A measure of the amount of flesh and fat an animal is carrying. Find out how it works here.
  • Broken mouth: A mouth that is starting to lose teeth.
  • Closed herd: A herd into which no outside breeding stock is ever introduced. A closed herd produces all of its own herd sires and replacement heifers.
  • Club calf: A calf bred for showing at 4-H or FFA shows. Eye appeal is a major factor in what makes a good club calf.
  • Composite: A breed formed by combining several other breeds at specific percentages. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • Concentrate: Highly digestible feed high in energy but low in fiber.
  • Conformation: How well the physical appearance of an animal conforms to a standard, whether that is a formal written show standard or just the commonly accepted views of how cattle should be built for soundness and productivity. By extension, conformation has also come to refer simply to the physical appearance of the animal without any reference to a standard.
  • Corriente: Properly a specific breed descended from Spanish cattle. Sometimes also used to refer to nondescript roping cattle, particularly those of Mexican origin.
  • Cutability: How much lean, salable meat a carcass can produce relative to the amount of waste fat.
  • Dewlap: Loose folds of skin hanging from the bottom of the neck, indicative of zebu influence.
  • Double-muscling: Having a genetic mutation leading to uncontrolled muscle growth, evidenced by an odd, heavy-muscled appearance. Characteristic of the Belgian Blue breed.
  • Dry: Not lactating.
  • Dystocia: Calving difficulties.
  • Easy fleshing: Able to maintain or gain weight readily on only low-cost feed, particularly forage.
  • EPD: Expected progeny difference. How the offspring of a given sire will perform for a given trait compared to others of the same breed. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • ET: Embryo transfer, not extraterrestrial. The process of removing embryos from a donor cow and implanting them into recipient cows. A technique used to maximize the genetic potential of a cow by enabling her to have more offspring than is naturally possible.
  • Exotic: Typically a Continental breed (see more here). Sometimes also applied to unusual bovines such as miniature cattle, bison, beefalo, or yaks.
  • Exposed: The cow in question was pastured with a bull. She might be pregnant, but there is no guarantee.
  • F1: Stands for “first filial generation.” The first generation of a cross.
  • Fancy: Exceptionally good eye appeal, conformation, and femininity. Also exceptionally expensive.
  • Feed conversion: Units of feed consumed relative to units of weight gained. Also referred to as “feed efficiency.”
  • Feeder calf: A calf that has been weaned but is not yet being finished. A rather loose term, but generally refers to older, larger calves that have already gone through the stocker phase and are now ready to go a feedlot.
  • Finishing: The final stage of feeding an animal destined for slaughter. Many cattle are finished on grain at a feedlot. Grass-finished cattle are finished on forage.
  • FOB: Free on board, or freight on board. The geographical place at which ownership of a group of cattle changes hands. Significant because the new owner is responsible for shipping costs after this point.
  • Frame score: An evaluation of the skeletal size of an animal based on hip height. Frame scores are related to both carcass weight and maintenance requirements. Read more here.
  • Freemartin: A heifer that was born twin to a bull calf. Most freemartins are infertile.
  • Gate cut: A method of equitably sorting cattle if a buyer is not taking the entire group. The cattle are placed in a corral and every third (or fourth or fifth or etc.) animal to come out of the alley goes to the buyer.
  • Genotype: The genetic makeup of an animal.
  • Green broke: Has had some halter training, but is not yet thoroughly trained.
  • Hanging weight: The weight of a beef carcass after the nonedible parts, such as head and organs, are removed.
  • Hard doer: Always in poor health and condition, regardless of management.
  • Harvest: Slaughter.
  • Heterosis: Hybrid vigor. The degree to which crossbred calves excel their purebred parents in performance traits.
  • Marbling: Intramuscular fat. Used to determine the USDA quality grade of a carcass.
  • Mastitis: Infection of the mammary glands.
  • Maternal traits: Traits that make a cow a good mother. Precisely which traits are considered maternal varies per producer, but the idea is that a cow with maternal ability is one that can consistently raise a hefty calf each year.
  • Maverick: An unbranded animal.
  • MiG: Management-intensive grazing. A system of matching animal nutritional needs to changing forage resources. Rotational grazing is a tool used in MiG, but MiG is far more than just rotational grazing. Read more here.
  • OCV: Official calfhood vaccinate. An animal that received a brucellosis vaccination as a calf, generally necessary to ship cattle across state lines.
  • Open: Not pregnant.
  • Pedigree: The family tree of an animal.
  • Phenotype: The visible animal and its performance traits, as distinct from its genetic background. A phenotype is influenced by genetics, but there can be environmental effects affecting the final product, and there might be genes with masked effects. Thus the difference between phenotype and genotype.
  • Polled: Hornless.
  • Post-legged: Having unusually straight back legs. A conformation defect that causes abnormal movement.
  • Prepotency: The ability of a bull to “stamp” his offspring so that they resemble him to a particularly marked degree. Usually seen in inbred bulls with many dominant genes paired together.
  • Progeny test: A method of estimating the genetic merit of a sire by evaluating the performance of his progeny.
  • Proven: Has had offspring. Hopefully good ones, but that depends on the honesty of the person saying it.
  • Reference sire: A bull with a known track record used as a benchmark in progeny testing.
  • Replacement heifer: A heifer that has been chosen to become a producing cow in the herd.
  • Running iron: A branding iron used to draw rather than stamp a brand. Illegal in some areas due to its longtime association with cattle rustlers.
  • Saddle iron: A short branding iron made be carried on the saddle. It does not have a handle, but instead is made to use any stick found along the trail.
  • Scurs: Bony hornlike growths attached to the skin of the head. Read more here.
  • Seedstock: Breeding animals sold as a genetic package as distinct from commercial animals sold for production purposes.
  • Shrink: The amount of weight an animal loses under stress.
  • Sickle-hocked: Having back legs bent at too sharp of an angle.
  • Sire summary: A record of the EPDs for current sires published by a national cattle evaluation program.
  • Slide: A method of adjusting the final sale price based on variation of the actual net weight of the cattle from their base weight.
  • Smooth mouth: A mouth without teeth.
  • Soggy: Deep-bodied, big-bellied, and in average to heavy condition. A sign of an easy-fleshing animal.
  • Springer: A cow or heifer expected to calve soon.
  • Stockers: Weaned cattle in a forage-based backgrounding program.
  • Synchronize: Treat cows or heifers with hormones to synchronize their estrous cycles. This is a convenience when using artificial insemination.
  • Terminal sire: A bull used to raise calves strictly for market, not breeding purposes.
  • Texas gate: A cattle guard.
  • Trim: Having a clean silhouette with no dewlap or other loose, hanging skin and flesh that might indicate zebu influence.
  • Upgrade: Increase the numbers of or introduce desired genes into a pure breed by introducing outside blood and breeding the crossbred offspring back to the desired parent breed. After several generations, the offspring become nearly pure. Read more here.
  • Yield grade: A 5-point scoring system used to measure cutability, with grade 1 being the highest yield of lean meat and grade 5 being the lowest.

What Causes Wool Allergies?

What Causes Wool Allergies?Did you know that many people who think they have wool allergies actually do not?

Many people who appear to have an adverse reaction to wool have sensitive skin that is harmed by the rubbing and abrasion of scratchy wool fiber.

Even people with a true allergy problem are actually reacting to substances in the wool, not the wool itself.


Wool Allergy Vs. Sensitive Skin

Wool allergy symptoms are typical of any allergen. They include:

  • Red, puffy, itchy, or watery eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Rash, which may take up to a week to appear after exposure to wool.

A problem caused by wool rubbing on sensitive skin is strictly confined to the skin, with no respiratory or other allergy symptoms. Symptoms of delicate skin that has been physically abraded by wool include:

  • Itchy skin.
  • Rash.
  • Hives.

Also note that wool sensitivity symptoms will appear when the affected person comes into contact with any coarse, scratchy fiber, not just wool.


Tips For Identifying a Lanolin Allergy

It is possible to be allergic to the naturally occurring lanolin found in wool. Lanolin, also known as wool wax or wool grease, is a natural protective grease that contains alcohols. These alcohols are thought to be the cause of true wool allergies. Note, however, that lanolin allergies are extremely rare.

A lanolin allergy can be hard to identify. What makes it easier (particularly for women) is that lanolin is common in many beauty creams and similar products due to its properties as an emulsifier. If you have a known issue with some beauty products, pull out the ingredient list—lanolin might be culprit.

Other products that often contain lanolin and thus can be used as a litmus test include:

  • Moisturizers.
  • Shampoos.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Shaving cream.
  • Hairspray.
  • Steroid creams.
  • Veterinary ointments.
  • Shoe polish.
  • Leather.
  • Air fresheners.
  • Printer ink.


Other Substances in Wool That Might Cause an Allergic Reaction

Again, lanolin allergies are quite rare. Typically, the real culprit is one of these substances:

  • Cleaning chemicals. These are sometimes added during the process of yarn manufacture and can be a major problem for those with chemical sensitivities.
  • Dyes. Likewise, some commercial dyes can cause allergies.
  • Dust mites. Wool fiber tends to hold in a great deal of foreign matter that can cause allergy symptoms. If you have a known dust allergy, there is a good chance that the dust trapped in your sweater is causing your symptoms.
  • Pet dander. Likewise, pet dander is easily trapped in the coarse fibers of wool. If you happen to be allergic to dogs or cats (or are knitting for someone else who is), keep your yarn and garments away from pets.


Now What?

If your problem is actually sensitive skin, there’s good news—you can continue to wear wool! Here are some tips for enjoying this fiber in comfort:

  • Dress in layers, making sure that your skin is protected from all contact with the wool garment.
  • Avoid wearing wool on days when you are likely to sweat. Sweating makes skin irritation worse.
  • Find a fine wool or wool blend. Most people with sensitive skin do not have a problem with fibers less than 22 microns in diameter. Merino is often a good option, while a blend of merino and cashmere is even better.

If you have a lanolin allergy, you will need to find a different fiber to wear, such as llama, alpaca, or cashmere. You might also enjoy working with plant fibers, such as cotton or bamboo.

Those with chemical allergies may enjoy working with yarns that have not been dyed. Or they might have fun dying their own yarns with natural substances!

And, finally, those with dust or pet dander allergies may need to avoid wool garments altogether. Wool rugs can also be a source of difficulty, so purchasing new rugs may be in order.

Side-Oats Grama

Side-Oats Grama

Side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) takes its name from its peculiar inflorescence. It grows a stalk varying in length from 3 to 16 inches and tending to zigzag. Somewhere between 12 and 60 very short branches grow from this stalk, dangling to one side. Each branch has three to eight spikelets resembling oat seeds, especially as they mature and fade to a tan color.

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