Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Virginia BMP Farm Cost Sharing Program

After the drubbing I took from my last two posts—mainly on rappnet--I decided to write something cheerier and return to the agricultural theme of this web site.

Local farmers be advised there is money there for the taking if you are willing to fence your cattle and other livestock out of area streams. This essay is the tale of my participation in the BMP (best management practices) cost-sharing program.

At first glance BMP is a no-brainer proposition. The states of Virginia will pay you 75% of the cost of putting in a well, fencing, and a frost-free watering system if you agree to keep your animals from wading and defecating in the water. Plus you get a 25% state tax credit for the portion that they do not reimburse. The reason this is desirable is animal manure is high in nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Their manure flows down the stream, into the river, and into the Chesapeake Bay where it causes algae blooms, red tides, all sort of maladies.

Now the program is voluntary. One day it could become mandatory and that certainly will set local farmers howling. Some say they would be forced out of business if they are required to fence off their streams. That's not true for all but the poorest farmers. There's no reason not to participate in the program if the state will pay the lion's share of the cost. Some farmers are simply philosophically opposed to the idea. Some of these complaining cattlemen are just tax farmers who keep cattle simply to keep their farms in the land use program thus lowering—you could say “lowing”---their real estate tax bill by 75%. They are out there now buying so-called “land use cattle” driving up the prices for calves at the spring auctions.

My own reason for participating in the program was financial. All winter long I had been hauling water two times per day down to my goats as the water I gave them quickly froze. So what I needed was a frost-free system: a mirafont.

The mirafont is elegant in its simplicity. It works sort of like a toilet with a floating and a valve. A pipe driven into the ground allows warm air from the subsoil to keep the water free of ice. A plastic ball floats into the space above the water and the animals learn to push down the floating ball and get a drink of water.

I applied for the BMP (best management practices) cost sharing program through David Massie at the Soil and Water Conservation office in Culpeper. The board of directors there took a look at my farm and approved a fence and frost-free watering system for 700 feet of stream footage. They said I did not have enough goats to justify a well so Clyde Pullen, the contractor I hired for the job, simply hooked my mirafont watering system directly to my existing well. As I grow my farm I plan to apply again: next time maybe I will have enough goats to justify a well.

The whole project cost me about $7,500 for which BMP will pay approximately $4,000. It's a bit difficult to calculate what portion of the project went toward the conservation project and what portion went toward the other project I finished which was to fence in 4 acres of forest (i.e. the other side of the stream easement) and run electric and water lines 800 feet down to my pasture. (The idea is the goats will clear the forest over time and turn it into pasture.) Clyde and his crew rented a Kubota backhoe and dug a trench 30 inches deep some 700 feet down my driveway. Then my electrician, Greg Lukas, installed three electrical plugs and put lights in my greenhouse and tool shed. For the electrical work I traded two years of hunting rights on my farm. (During the Great Recession barter has supplanted cash in some cases.) Clyde installed two frost-free hydrants. This way I will have water for my garden, my green house and my other pasture where the herd sire lives and where there is no mirafont, yet. As for the fencing I did all of that myself. The state paid a subsidy for the cost of the fencing, the cost of the mirafont, the water line, and the electric charger to power the fence. And I have contributed my own, albeit modest, effort to keep the Chesapeake Bay clean.

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Laid off from the Day Job and Nursing two Kids by Hand

Problems on the Goat Farm: Unemployment and Nursing two Kids by Hand

Two disasters befell the goat farm this week. First, I got laid off from my day job from Sprint. Second, the mother of two of my day old goats died. So I am bottle feeding her two kids while I buried their mother this morning with the tractor.

In the last 20 days thirteen baby goats have been born on the farm. Two of them died—one had bite marks from some wild animal and the other perhaps got bacteria in its umbilical cord and dropped dead without warning. I had followed the textbook procedures and instructions from friends. I had vaccinated all of the mothers a month before they delivered so that the mothers would deliver immunity to their kids through their colostrum. And I dewormed the mothers the day they delivered so they would not die of anemia. Still I found myself in the veterinarian's office this week a little moist eyed as the vet put down one of my kids. Farmers are supposed to be hardened in sprit as birth and death are part of life. But I had been with this little girl since the evening before trying to force feed her milk I had drawn from her mother's teats. With no registrable temperature and despite steroids fed through a catheter the little babie die in a box on Dr. Massie's office. A little bit of me died there with that doe.

Tonight I just got back from the drug store where I bought two baby bottles to feed my orphaned day-old goats. I had been unable to get them to suck on the calf-sized nipple that I had affixed to a bottle of Goat-Savr powdered milk. They sucked on my fingers and nibbled on my shirt all the while yelling for their mother. But unless they learned to feed from the bottle they would die of starvation. I tried everything the book told me: cover their eyes to emulate the dark under their mother's udder, tickle their rectum as their mother would do. Then it dawned on me that the nipple designed for a calf was too large for a goat. So at the Walgreens I bought two nipples and voila both kids drank a whole bottle of milk. Now they are sleeping peacefully on the couch at my side and have quit crying for their mother. For the next two months I am their mother as they will require feeding 4 times per day.

This of course ties me down as I look for new work. I cannot help but be angry to yet again have been tossed out by the brutality which is capitalism where morality matters not and profit is the only goal. I once had my own company but am not much of a capitalist because I never laid off anyone even when there was no work. Of course Sprint has a fiduciary duty to its stock holders to lower costs and maximize profits but that is what is wrong with this system in which we live in the USA. Sprint was making positive cash flows and had billions of dollars in the bank so there was no crisis there. Their former CEO Gary Forsee had been singled out by some magazine as the worst offender in the malfeasance which is executive compensation and greed. He had paid himself $22 million dollars two years ago as the company shed customers unhappy with the poor customer service and dropped calls. The new CEO Dan Hesse promised to do better and I believed his every word. I was encouraged as each quarter we met our targets and my own bonus was usually equal to one month pay. But the board of directors was not happy that Sprint's operating costs were 20% of revenue and not 15% as was the case with AT&T and Verizon the primary competitors. So Dan tossed me out along with 5,000 other fathers and mothers and tax paying citizens and replaced them with people in India a dozen of which I had personally trained.  Of the people left behind in the office in Reston and Kansas many were working on immigrant visas.

There is a new type of McCarthyism lurking in the halls of corporate America where you are not supposed to mention the visa status of those you work with. But having been laid off twice in the past 8 years and replaced by Indians I feel compelled to speak out. I had asked the Vice President at Sprint where I was working whether priority would be given to U.S. Citizens over workers on immigrant visas during this round of layoffs. He said “No, we're all God's children”. But the stimulus bill  has required that U.S. Citizens be given preference when the decision is made to cut head count. This is a rule which is widely circumvented especially by Indian contracting firms that illegally bring workers to the USA when they have no position for them here. The corporation is able to say “this is not my doing” when they delegate work to these these H1B body shops.

For ten years now Indian immigrants have steadily replaced US Citizens in the workplace. Bill Gates is so enamored of their prowess that he declared Southern Indians the smartest workers in the world. It's made me so mad I want to leave the IT field and do what I really want to do which is farming and working in the vineyard. But I am a prisoner---tied down by the need for health care I must have full-time work. Like most farmers my day job pays for agricultural hobby and my farm losses are a hedge against the taxes I pay working for the corporations. Last year my farm had an income of minus $31,000 USD.

I have bittersweet relations with Indians as the advertising for goat meat on my web site is written in Kannada, Hindi, and Telegu. I had had the idea to direct market goat meat to Indians but are finding them too cheap to deal with. Unlike the gringo the Indian does not understand nor care for the idea of “organic”, “sustainable agriculture”, and “local farming”. They simply are interested in what does it cost. It's frustrating beyond belief as I had hoped to make them my customers.  I have the same emotion as Indian headhunters phone me up as I look for work.  The gringo will ask me about my experience.  The Indians only concern is "what is your billing rate?"

Indian immigration is a theme I have written about before as they have so abused the systems to now outnumber US Citizens in the IT work place. Take a look at this essay which appeared in two Indian publications including this one http://mediakit.indusbusinessjournal.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications::Article&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=8BC1B012FC0D4682A435C4D1B601370A

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