Archive | April 2011

What Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson Can Teach Us about Change

By Jim Whitt

A few months ago, Charlie Sheen seemed to be on top of the world. Then his world turned upside down. What’s really sad is that Charlie thought he was, to use his terminology, winning. And why shouldn’t he? He was raking in millions of dollars as the star of the highest rated sitcom on television. By many standards Charlie Sheen was a success. He probably really believed he possessed Adonis DNA andTiger Blood. He saw absolutely no need to change. Now he has no show.

Mel Gibson, another celebrity whose problems are well documented, knows what it’s like to be on top of the world one day and on the bottom the next. In a recent interviewwith Allison Hope Weiner he had some interesting observations about his journey from the top to the bottom and points in between: “You realize change has happened. You face it, you cope with it and you move on. And it’s not easy. Change is always preceded by a little pain. Some people can change and they don’t have to go through so many painful things. But I think that I’m of a personality that I’m a little stubborn, so it’s tough for me.”

I must share that same personality trait because change is tough for me, too. In fact, I have never met anyone for whom change is easy. Mel says change is always preceded by a little pain. I’ll go a step further and say that change is not only preceded by but accompanied by pain. And the greater the change required the longer it takes to achieve. As Mel noted in his interview, “There are solutions and it doesn’t all happen like that (Snaps his fingers). Bad things happen like that. But good things all take time – growth, healing, that all takes time.”

It doesn’t take nearly as much time to destroy as it takes to build. That’s true for both personal and organizational development. Both require changes in behavior. New patterns of behavior have to be learned and that takes time. Organizational development is particularly difficult and time consuming because it requires changes in behavior of everyone in the organization.

About a year before the great recession of 2008 hit, an organization I was consulting with wrestled with the question of, “To change or not to change.” On one hand the leadership agreed the structure and culture had to change for the company to succeed in the future. On the other hand they felt they were doing pretty well with things as they were. The truth was they were doing pretty well but they would have to change to succeed in the future. It’s worth noting that Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson were doing pretty well, too. Both were at the pinnacles of their careers when they imploded.

At the same time I was consulting with the company that was struggling with the “change or not to change” question another company I was familiar with was preparing for its 25th anniversary. It had been an extremely successful company and things appeared to be going so well they were considering taking all of the employees to someplace like Disneyworld to celebrate their anniversary. When the economy headed south the company imploded. They are no longer in business. Yes, as Mel observed, bad things can happen fast. Fortunately, the company I was consulting with chose to change. They are still in business. They are still changing. And they are doing even better than before.

The lesson for us is to understand that we are never totally objective about where we are as individuals or organizations. Change never stops and we can’t stop change. It’s a two-way street. Either we make it happen or it happens to us. Yes, change is painful. But the pain of not changing is a whole lot worse.

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Cover Crop Trial

By Orvin Bontrager, Servi-Tech Director of Education

Cover crops are being promoted for nutrient cycling and increasing crop yields on no-till fields in Nebraska.

Several strips were planted the end of August 2010 on non-irrigated wheat stubble in Hamilton County in south-central Nebraska.  A mixture of radishes, turnips, winter peas, and oats was in the planting.

Pictured below is the cover crop on the right in early Nov 2010.  Only 1-1.5 inches of moisture was received after planting in the fall.  The check is on the left.  Weeds were treated in early Aug prior to planting the cover crop.  The check strips had volunteer wheat controlled again in Sept 2010.  The strips are replicated 5 times.

The same strip is shown this spring.  The cover crop winter killed, but some volunteer wheat remains.  It has been scheduled to be treated but inclement weather has prevented herbicide application.  Anhydrous ammonia was knifed into the soil on both strips.

Soil moisture samples show that significantly drier subsoil exists in the cover crop strips.  These were taken several weeks ago prior to 3.5 inches of rain that have been received in the past 10 days.

The data shows a combined 1.59 inches less water was present in the cover crop strips than in the weed controlled wheat stubble strips.

The same samples show 112 total pounds of nitrate nitrogen available in the top 3 feet of the wheat stubble check and 22 pounds available under the cover crop strips.  However some of the nitrogen taken up by the cover crop will become available to the corn crop this summer as the cover crop residue breaks down.

A non irrigated corn crop will be planted and monitored this spring.  Yields will be obtained for comparisons this fall.

A Double Whammy for Consumers

By Dennis T. Avery

CHURCHVILLE, VA—U.S. Energy prices have risen to more than 6 percent of consumer spending—which may be a historic “tipping point.” Our food prices, meanwhile, have had their steepest increase in a generation, to about 6.5 percent of spending. That’s a double whammy consumers haven’t suffered since Jimmy Carter’s infamous “stagflation,” a painful mix of weak economic growth, high unemployment, and rising inflation in the late 1970’s.

Both the high oil prices and the high food prices trace directly back to the Obama Administration. Oil has gotten no scarcer during the Obama years, but the dollar has weakened by about 17 percent. The price of oil is denominated in U.S. dollars, so the dollar decline almost exactly matches the rise in America’s oil prices. Meanwhile, the President has engineered a stop-stall on domestic energy production, from Alaska to the Gulf, making even our own oil more costly.

Some months ago I sat at an energy roundtable with Congressman Markey of Massachusetts (of Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade fame), the President of Duke Power, and the former director of President Clinton’s Council on Environmental Quality. The sympathy at the table was for rigging higher natural gas prices so the huge federal subsidies for wind turbines and solar panels would seem less a drain on our economic growth.

Recently, moreover, the Congressional Research Service reported the U.S. has more fossil energy than any other nation when we total our coal, oil, natural gas, and our new shale gas and oil reserves. Far from having “just 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves” we have centuries worth of fossil fuels—which the Obama administration is committed to not using.

The food inflation too is now Obama’s. Under both Bush and Obama, the federal government has cheerfully diverted huge amounts of grain to auto fuel, creating an artificial food shortage. That’s triggered food price inflation for the poorest around the world. Corn ethanol may be “renewable,” but the subsidies make it very expensive to use.

Why not remove the federal subsidy and let ethanol compete? Mainly because ethanol isn’t competitive or effective. And it is down right disastrous for the environment. Right now, farm woodlots are being drained in the Corn Belt, and tropical forest is being cleared for more corn and palm oil in Southeast Asia, responding to high crop prices. This is not a sustainable solution.

Last year, Stanford University praised Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution for saving about 7 million square miles of wildlife habitat from being plowed for more low-yield crops. Without the higher crop yields, we’d have gassed off soil carbon—as nitrous oxide—equal to one-third of the world’s industrial emissions since 1850!  The Stanford message is clear: don’t clear wildlife habitat for trivial purposes. And this seems a trivial purpose—whether or not you believe in man-made global warming. Ethanol won’t make much difference.

Why not clean-burn coal, gas, and oil to make the electricity we need and admit the “green” solutions so far just don’t work. Trillions of taxpayer dollars are poured into wind, solar, and ethanol and none has proved to be an effective means of producing energy.

If the goal is to reduce CO2 the effort has not only failed, but the need is appearing less and less valid. Thus far, the computer models have been wrong. The Pacific Ocean, our largest heat sink, has entered a cool phase, and the tree rings and coral samples tell us it will probably last for the next 25 years.

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to Visit our website at www.

Drought-Tolerant Black-Eyed Peas at Center Stage


CHURCHVILLE, VA—Extended droughts were far worse in the Little Ice Age that ended just 150 years ago, but big droughts are also likely in the world’s future if we are in a new warming cycle. This prospect pushes the un-exciting Black-Eyed Pea into an unlikely starring role

The cowpea—better known in America as the black-eyed pea–is an important food source in Africa, Asia, and the southern United States. Cowpea already grows better than most crops in hot, dry climates, but a veteran plant breeder at Texas A&M is using thermal imaging to select the most drought-tolerant genotypes of cowpeas to help maximize global food and livestock feed.

Dr. B. B. Singh thinks genetic engineering could make the cowpea even more drought-tolerant than today. If so, it could play a big role in drought-proofing both world food needs and global livestock feed supplies for the future by expanding its role as a major food staple.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts world food consumption will nearly double over the next 40 years. Much of that expansion will be in drought-prone parts of the world. Drought-tolerant cowpeas could use sandy soils in hot climates more productively than today, producing high yields of dried peas for boiling, not to mention leafy greens and green pods for fresh consumption. The vining type of cowpea also makes a good cover crop to prevent erosion, even as it fertilizes itself with nitrogen.

Inside Singh’s greenhouse, small boxes filled with soil are planted with promising cowpea varieties selected by thermal imaging. The seeds are watered just enough to germinate them—and left without water for 50 days to simulate a drought or a foreshortened rainy season. Singh says he planted 16 varieties on the same day—and 50 days later the resistant varieties remained green and fully alive. The drought-susceptible plants were completely dead.

“Our preliminary studies have shown one major gene for drought tolerance in cowpeas,” says Singh. “We’re trying to transfer that gene into the improved varieties . .  .that have good health factors and are aphid resistant. We hope these new varieties will have major impact improving food production in the southern U.S., Africa, Asia, and Brazil.

“We hope in the 21st century, when drought, heat and moisture become factors, a 60-day heat-and drought-tolerant cowpea will become the main food legume in the world, as they would fit in the existing cereals and root-crop systems as a short-duration niche crop,” Singh says. The plant breeder came to Texas A&M from Africa’s International Center for Tropical Agriculture, bringing along 35 high-yielding lines of cowpeas with drought and aphid tolerance, as well as resistance to several diseases.

The cowpea is an ancient crop that emerged along with pearl millet and grain sorghum in prehistoric Africa. Most of the world’s current cowpea production is in Nigeria, Niger, and Senegal. However, with additional drought tolerance, cowpea production could expand. The peas contain up to 30 percent protein and their amino acids complement cereal grains—as do soybeans—to provide a balanced diet.

The cowpea’s seeds and vines are both excellent cattle feed. Think of the benefits of raising more forage for cattle in hot, sandy areas with low soil nutrients. Think Texas and the other S.W. U.S., along with Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and India.

Today, improved cowpeas in Texas are yielding 800 to 1000 pounds per acre of seeds, and that doesn’t count their forage contribution. In Africa, unfortunately, poor seeds and low-caliber management have meant yields of only about 200 pounds per acre–one-fifth to one-tenth of the yields produced by Africa’s on-farm test plots. The battle won’t be won with just better seeds, but if better management is part of the package, chances of avoiding major food shortages will have greatly increased.

Dennis T. Avery, a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., is an environmental economist. He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Years. Readers may write to him at PO Box 202 Churchville, VA 2442; email to Visit our website at www.

Planting Season

By Orvin Bontrager

Corn planting has started in south-central Nebraska.  Soil temperatures are still plenty cold.  My recent readings are 48-50 degrees F at 4 inch depth on continuous corn ridges.  The near term forecast won’t allow them to warm up much.  As I write this over 1 inch of rain has been received and planters won’t be moving for several days now.

Burndown herbicide treatments for winter annual weeds are progressing rapidly.  The major problem weeds are various mustard species and several annual brome species.  Shepardspurse is one of the more difficult to control annual weed.

Fields that have been historically managed for winter weed control have much less pressure than fields that have been ignored.  Now with rain and wind delays, the untreated fields will have the winter weeds grow and progress rapidly.

Even with wetter conditions, research has shown that the early weeds reduce both corn and soybean yields by competing for soil moisture and nutrients.  A week of warm, dry weather will allow the weeds to dry out ridges and planting areas rapidly.  The crop is then stunted in those weed infested spots.
2,4-D is a valuable addition to any burndown program on fields going to soybeans.  It aids greatly in giant ragweed, smartweed, lambsquarter and horseweed/marestail control.  If it isn’t on now, the growers will have to hurry to get it applied so soybeans can be planted by the end of April.  2,4-D needs to be on at least 7 days prior to soybean planting;  use only the ester formulations of 2,4-D.

Farmers not to blame for high food prices

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Farmers and ethanol producers have braced for what they expect could be widespread criticism as corn prices are rising rapidly and other food costs are following.

A similar increase five years ago generated a storm of criticism, with many in the food industry blaming the ethanol industry for buying up corn that could be used for food and faulting farmers for capitalizing on the higher prices. Many farmers and ethanol producers worried then the complaints would force a change in agriculture and energy policies and fewer subsidies for their industries, but prices came down and that didn’t happen.

Now, they’re concerned again as corn prices rose even higher last week following an announcement that U.S. farmers are planting the second largest corn crop since 1944, but it won’t be enough to meet growing worldwide demand. Corn has traded at more than $7 a bushel this month, more than double last summer’s $3.50, and many traders say it could pass the record $7.65 set in 2008.

But experts say those prices have little to do with what shoppers pay at the grocery store, and farmers and ethanol producers aren’t responsible for recent increases in the cost of groceries.

“It’s a whole slew of things that have influenced that price,” said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. He ticked off some of them: “When you look at the cost of our food, it is related to the cost of corn, soybeans and wheat and cattle but also the cost of oil, gas, diesel and unrest in other parts of the world.”

All of those factors mean consumers may have more to complain about for a while. Corinne Alexander, an agriculture economist from Purdue University, predicted food inflation will average between 4 percent and 4 ½ percent this year. Normal food inflation is about 2 ½ percent, she said.

“We are going to enter that world again where folks are getting squeezed and they want an explanation for it,” she said.

Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association, said his group has already begun to hear complaints aimed at farmers that are similar to those expressed in 2006 and 2007, when congressional hearings on commodity prices and market speculation were held. He said the criticism is unfounded.

Read the full story here