Playing God With The Weather


Thanks to Big Ag and Big Data, our worries about the weather are just about over. There is the possibility, another one of those blessings that is “just around the corner,” when we will know exactly which day to plant which field to which crop to be assured of abundant yields. The long-awaited paradise of guaranteed weather is almost here. And if, God forbid, it doesn’t always work out, Big Insurance will cover our losses. You can’t lose. Sell those stocks, ditch those derivatives, off that money in offshore accounts. Buy up every last acre of farmland out there.

I hope I’m joking, but maybe not. If what I read in the New Yorker (Nov. 11 issue, 2013) comes true, it could happen. Or at least some people think it could happen.  (It is interesting that I keep finding really detailed articles about agriculture in big city newspapers and magazines these days.) Monsanto has just bought something called the Climate Corporation for a billion bucks or so. The Climate Corporation is an insurance company mainly selling crop insurance to farmers at around $40 an acre average, according to the article. The reason this seems (to some) to be good news is that it will make farmers better producers because crop insurance companies like to hedge their bets. For instance, car insurers want cars to be as safe as possible to minimize payouts. Crop insurers want to minimize crop losses for the same reason Climate Corporation has this brilliant notion that Big Data can supply them with enough climate, weather and agronomic information to avoid most catastrophes in the farm fields. Everybody will win. According to this article, Climate Corporation’s scientists “process 50 terabytes of weather information every day, roughly the equivalent of a hundred thousand movies or ten million songs.”  I repeat, every day. “The data include eight years worth of soil, moisture and precipitation records for each of the twenty nine million farm fields in the U.S.”

Did you know there were twenty nine million farm fields in the U.S.?

The company can “create moisture and precipitation maps so precise that in some cases a farmer can determine whether the field on one side of the road is wetter than the field on the other side.” Why are people so worried about NSA snooping into our private lives? Looks like I can’t pee in my corn field any more without Monsanto knowing it.

I wonder if anyone at Climate Corporation understands that one of the biggest joys of farming is walking or driving out to the fields to check on growing conditions.  Doing this on a computer from afar won’t happen until there are no real farmers left. Evidently Big Ag foresees that day coming. Executives will be able to turn on their computers and take a look at the twenty nine million fields out there somewhere over the rainbow and make planting and harvesting decisions. In addition, Monsanto must be dreaming of the ultimate monopoly. It seems to have spent years trying, in effect, to patent all plant life. Now it hopes to patent the weather too.

Echoing the words of a farmer I know who grows crops in three different counties, this insurance deal “is not about better production or protection but just a way to finally gain complete control over us. The old saying has it right. Take not and ye shall not be taken.”


in my neighborhood farmers have even given up the joy of checking field conditions they hire people they call agronomists,i call em chemical salesmen, to do it for them.

I think this may be more about what information & data Monsanto can glean about farmland on the micro level for their own self-interests or marketing purposes, rather than on finding ways to benefit farmers. Not unlike another behemoth, Google, they’ll merrily gather as much information as they can get away with and squirrel it away. To big corporations like that, information is power. Not quite sure what their angle is and Monsanto may not yet know exactly how they’ll use all the data they collect, but I doubt their interests are how best “to serve mankind.”

Roof- painted hickory borers are not real harmful to anything but hickory. They put lots of holes in my firewood this past summer but don’t hatch out when you bring it inside. Hickory is super firewood and I would’nt pass it up because of a bug.

“Executives will be able to turn on their computers and take a look at the twenty nine million fields out there somewhere over the rainbow and make planting and harvesting decisions.”

Substitute ‘Ploitburo’ for ‘Executives’ and I believe that’s already been tried with the Soviet-era collective farms. Just look at how well that worked out for them. I suppose history runs in cycles too.

Excellent piece, and timely. Information, at least accurate and meaningful information, goes only to those who can afford it, which translates to the ground hogs. Smaller “inefficent” farmers are getting peeled off every year. Someday the light bulb will come on for the agribusinessmen, and they will realize too late that they get information just a little later than the corporations with whom they exchange cash. It’s going to be difficult for them to get off that tiger.

On a more humorous vein, if you listen to NPR, Ira Glass did a great piece on “This American Life” about a discovery he made while touring a pork processing plant. He stumbled upon a box labeled “imitation calamari”, and being a reporter, began asking questions. It seems the last 8~10″ of a hog’s intestine, which the industry politely refers to as it’s “bung”, is sliced into 3/4 inch wide circles, which are served in restaurants as calamari, instead of squid. Mr. Glass did some taste tests with his friends, some of whom were calamari afficionados and were certain they could tell the difference; they couldn’t. Some have sworn off calamari now. If you listen to this story on the internet tubes, you will laugh your bung off. It’s also a good practical joke to play on your yuppy friends.

I took advantage of the recent cold weather to warm up inside reading “A Sanctuary of Trees”, a great book. In the photo of the fresh cut hickory woodpile, you were impressed with the bees swarming on the fresh wood. I had a similar experience with some wood the state had trimmed by the highway. Several large pieces of wood were covered by what I at first thought were ants, then wasps, and finally I took several to the extension office, where no one had seen them before either. Finally, the entomologist emailed me and told me they were painted hickory borers; they fed off live wood because they drank the sap, and not just hickory sap. I lost out on those pieces of wood because I didn’t want to bring those unknown bugs anywhere close to my buildings.

I’ve been wondering why with this recent cold snap, non of the weather people have mentioned the term “Alberta Clipper” or El Nino, which used to be the ultimate explanation for any weather event. Have I missed something here?

Hi Gene, I had read your article on Organic GMO. I feel scientists are using the population as guinea pigs. Also scientists are playing God. I like when you said you like to walk through your field. I use to live and work on a farm. I do miss it big time. We Americans are getting away from owning farms. They are also getting away from home cooked meals. They just want to eat on the run. That is why there is so much family problems lately. No more home cooked meals and family sitting at the dinner table. I wish I had a small piece of land to grow my own stuff. People have gotten away from gardening, it is very relaxing. Maybe they feel it is too much work. So they buy their vegetables from a store, instead of supporting the local farmer.

Yes, Christine, I’m hoping the technology is too expensive and that when I shoot down a drone, coyly claiming I thought it was after my livestock, all will be well in Betty World. Speaking of weather, looks like we’re in for it–going to spend tomorrow chopping kindling and tacking old rugs up over the opening to the goat sheds. Then like the rest of you will be hunkered down against the wood stove for a few days! Best wishes from this free range old woman!

I do that sort of agricultural modeling for a living, and I would not worry about Monsanto or any other company knowing THAT much about your farmland. Most of what they say is exaggeration to impress the investors and potential customers. Sure, they can approximate how much rain fell with NEXRAD radar data and approximate how moist the soil is on the surface before the canopy has closed, but that is at a very large scale. Radar pixels are 1kmx1km and get larger and less accurate the farther away from the radar you go (the US doesn’t even have 100% complete radar coverage). Soil moisture measurements (from satellite) are 250mx250m and larger (but only every few days and only when it is not cloudy). Flying sensors in airplanes can get you higher resolution data, but that is very expensive. If you are doing this modeling on a regional scale you get pretty good trends, but they can’t yet predict what your yields are going to be a month ahead of time (unless the crop had been destroyed). They know nothing about microclimates, variations in soil within soil mapping units, or if your crop successfully pollinated or not. A farmer who knows her soil and walks the fields every week knows gobs more than Monsanto ever will. P.S. henwhisperer, soil is already up to 30% aluminum naturally, so I wouldn’t worry about that or the “chemtrails” either. Worry instead about 2,4-D, neonicotinoids, malthion and other of the nastier ag chemicals if you must.

I’m not religious, but the saying “Men plan, God laughs” comes to mind.

Don’t you be out there checking your fields; squeezing the dirt. Monsanto just might sue you for stealing proprietary data. Back Inside, you reprobate!

Looks like George Orwell understated things for sure and no doubt there are folks trying to control every aspect of our lives.A couple things will stop them I think, one is nature is very resourcful in throwing a monkey wrench into the best laid plains of men especially when it comes to the weather one good volcanic eruption can change the dynamics drastically.Also all these technological things depend on lots of $$$$ to feed on and the economic train in most of the so called Civilized World is headed for a serious derailment.
On the bright side where good news and victories are small General Mills has said it will not use any GMO in their Cherrios any more.Its a small victory but as the Chinese say a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step or to Americanize things the largest Oak started as an Acorn.Personally I see a huge backlash by the masses against control and manipulations of all kinds.

“Why are people so worried about NSA snooping into our private lives? Looks like I can’t pee in my corn field any more without Monsanto knowing it.”

You’re a genius, Gene. Happy new year. Keep believing in small farms & mysteries, let technology save them if it can. Have a blessed 2014.

I guess all I can say about that is, Monsanto is not just evil, but willfully ignorantly arrogant. Mother Nature’s gonna shake us off like a bad cold some of these days, I think. And start over.

It may work out that Monsanto gets into the crop insurance business and we have such a dry or wet year they go bankrupt. Wouldn’t that be a shame.

Now I am going to get back to counting my saved tomato and pepper seeds!

Happy New Year Gene and I hope many more to come!

    When I read your comment, I had a brief moment of what-goes-around-comes-around, but then reality hit. They would not go bankrupt because they would refuse to pay out claims, citing something the farmer did to violate the terms of the insurance. And government would not force them to pay out. The game is fixed.

Looks like an effort at that “total vertical management” philosophy. But if they cover the Southeast and try predictions, good luck. My Mom can remember blizzard conditions and short-sleeve Christmases in the 1950s. I remember the TV weathermen going white-haired rather quickly trying to predict what would happen in the winters and springs of my childhood in the 70s and 80s in TN. Predict devastation and we get a dusting, predict a dusting and we get Snowpocalypse. They’re better now, some of the time. Better to watch the maps and the clouds yourself, watch your own thermometer, and make up your own mind.
All the best climate data won’t help Monsanto with resistance in insects and weeds. Maybe that’s why they’re branching out into the insurance business.
Anyway, Happy New Year!

I work in the insurance industry and it has been common knowledge for years that there are some areas which are historically more prone to hail damage or sudden downpours. Seems to me that what they are doing is just parsing down this information into the square foot of field. However, what will likely throw off all of the probability tables is the fact that we are seeing more and more “100 year” weather events, except they are occurring every couple years. Climate change is happening around us, and all of the historical data may become useless in the next 20 years or so. I am of the firm belief that the changes to our climate which have been initiated are going to keep accelerating because of the impossibility of any political or economic agreement on what to do. I think we are going to see much more radical weather shifts, with warm winters switching back to cold springs, etc, as the polar stream becomes more erratic. Crop insurance in such uncertainty will be dicey indeed.

    the Bible predicts all of this, whether you are a believer or not there seems to be what used to be called ‘racial knowledge’ by which our ancestors already knew about what we are hearing in these days– floods, rumors of war, earthquakes, winds so high that people have heart attacks from fear.
    monsanto is not going away until it is blown away–possibly by some of the monster winds of prophecy– they intend to own every bite you eat and they will not rest until they do.
    i think water may be the most sought after resource, and i have some inside info on that issue.
    are any of you old enough to remember in the 60’s some east coast professor posited that all humans be removed to the coasts of the land and only crops and wild animals should be allowed in the middle?
    i scoffed, but this seems to be slowly coming to some kind of fruition.
    perhaps monsanto will hold sway over all the central lands. that seems to be their aim.
    who knows?

This sounds an awful lot like the futuristic farms that Wendell Berry mentioned as proposed by universities back in the 70s. Between this and the testing of drones now underway across the country, I believe privacy will be a thing of the past, except for maybe those who choose to fight for it.
Maybe peeing in the field will throw their scanners off. If so, it may behoove all of us to stock up on diuretics and have at it!

Happy New Year to all the Contrarians out there.

You’d need 10 million awfully good songs to get good results!
I am not sure there are that many in the world, let alone per day. 😉
Happy New Year!

Climate engineering, aka weather modification, already is in motion. Chemtrails, NEXRAD radar, and other technologies all play their parts. Monsanto already has a aluminum resistant strain of corn and soy, if I am not mistaken. Why aluminum? Aluminum is a part of the toxic soup being sprayed daily over our skies via the persistent contrails. You’ve seen them….you knew they were odd but couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Long contrails that do not dissipate, take on the look of a zipper then spread out to gauze over the sky. Who is behind it? Shrug. Who would actively participate in the spraying of Chemtrails? Shrug again. But they are real, weather modification is real, and Monsanto stands to profit more from it. Oh right, insurance.

Insurance is sold not to help the people who buy it, but to enrich the people who sell it.

Love the “snow” falling on your essay! Crop insurance is already a Big Problem, since non-commodity farmers tend to not be eligible for coverage.

Is anyone else concerned that this moves from climate prediction to climate engineering (no domed city required)? And why whenever I think about the actions of firms like the big M. does Blade Runner come to mind?

Happy New Year Gene.
Maybe this venture will be the demise of Monsanto and a return to more sane farming.

I chuckled out loud when I read about Monsanto knowing if you pee in the field. The truth is…it’s not funny. It’s scary.
I remember when in 1970 the idea of using a card for all purchases instead of cash was thought to be science fiction. I couldn’t imagine that cold hard cash would simply not be accepted at some establishments. But here we are.
I never thought I would be getting most of my world information from a laptop computer sitting in my living room as if I was reading the daily paper either…and here I am.
Yes. I believe it could happen. It’s just a matter of time and I hope my days are long past when it does.
“There is just something wrong about it.” she said while sitting on a limb with a wide, knowing grin on her face. And then the Queen marched down the path shouting “Off with her head.”
And the end of the farmer came to be.

Happy New Year Gene and all your readers.

Looks like Monsanto is suffering from a lack of corporate vision. They should take the old Sci-Fi notion of futuristic domed cities and just dome the whole country. Imagine the profits from charging farmers for light, heat and rain. Want 1/2″ on Wednesday afternoon? Just swipe your credit card thru the Climatemaker 2000 box on the side of your barn and voila!! A perfect 1/2″ gently sprinkled on your crop from the spray tubes above. Heck, you could even order up a monsoon to hit your worst enemy’s daughter’s wedding. The opportunity for total corporate control of the entire food chain is nigh!

Now that I have cleared that from my head, time to load up the woodbox before the anticipated cold snap this weekend. Thank you for keeping us informed and entertained and enjoy the freedom that growing our own food gives us.

and the farmer already knows if the field on one side of the road is wetter than the field on the other side anyway

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