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Doldrummy, but with a scent of seamonsters

Anyone else notice that the ag markets have gotten awfully flat in the past couple of months?

Two and a half months of canola, spring wheat, soybeans and corn
Scientists have adapted acoustic techniques commonly used by engineers to predict mechanical failures to detect insects hidden in soil and the interior of plants.United States Department of Agriculture researchers from Florida and Oregon and colleagues at Auburn University, University of Florida and Montana State University have developed an acoustic technique that uses sensitive instruments like accelerometers, soil-probe electret microphones and piezoelectric disks to pinpoint insect locations. These sensors convert vibrations into electrical signals.Insect pests are hard to detect because they often live in plants and soil. Field searches often include a visual inspection followed by digging, removal of the root mass or flushing with water, all of which damage the plant. Researchers have been trying to find a less destructive way of determining insect infestations.They conducted tests using a variety of insects and soil conditions in Florida, Oregon and Puerto Rico. The insects, such as wheat stem sawfly and weevils that attack the roots of orange trees and ornamental plants, were chosen for their economic importance and variations in size.The portable acoustic sensors were found to detect insects within three minutes over distances of 10-30 centimetres, depending on the composition of the soil and peak frequencies of the sound pulses.The sound pulses were then averaged to create profiles for each insect.Acoustic profiles were also developed for background noises such as wind, airplanes and motor vehicles that often interfere with accurately determining the presence of insects.The insect profiles were used in tests that compared acoustically predicted infestations with insects found in the soil. Insects within 30 cm were detected 100 percent of the time under laboratory or ideal field conditions where low-frequency background noise levels were low. The technique was 75 percent reliable under adverse conditions in the field.This inexpensive and nondestructive pest-monitoring method may prove useful to growers who want to use integrated pest management systems to lessen the impact of a variety of insect pests on farm productivity.

The only one looking peppy there is corn, which we really don’t grow much of here in the prairies. Otherwise crop futures prices for new crop have been bobbling around at the top of this flagpole we’re sitting on.

It seems like the doldrums, but looking out over those still waters from the poop deck, I can’t help but get a creepy feeling that there are seamonsters lurking beneath the surface, uncurling and getting ready to surge upwards at our ship.

Now, I realize my feelings mean nothing whatsoever in regards to where crop prices are actually going to go from here, but there do seem to be quite a few uglinesses crawling into the markets, challenging everyone’s beliefs about the underlying demand for the crops we grow and livestock we raise.

More and more unsettling news is coming out of China, with that nation’s attempts to hold its booming economy together looking increasingly unsuccessful. The wheels could come off that wagon anytime. Bears have called for that to happen for a decade, and it hasn’t, but some time . . .

Japan doesn’t look much better. When it’s debt mountain finally does a Frank Slide, the country’s appetite for imports is likely to shrink a bunch.

The U.S. “recovery” is looking increasingly like a questionable concept, with energy seeping out of the economy and QE2 about to end, and all the problems staved off over the last two years finally reviving.

Europe’s a mess.

I didn’t get to go to the U2 concert here in Winnipeg 10 days ago.

All these factors add up to a scary-looking outlook for the rest of the summer and the second half of the year.

I’m glad the ag markets are sharply higher today. I’m hoping these grim feelings I’m having of seamonsters and other nautical horrors are just the dregs of a bad patch in the market we’ve been living through and that they will be dispelled as the market climbs my wall of worries.

But heck – it’s a big wall.

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