Friday, January 24, 2014

Starting 2014 Right

So the blog has been in hibernation for the past month.  But hopefully this will make up for the lengthy absence.  (This is pretty long, so hope you are sitting down.)  The news across much of  the country seems to be the terrible cold weather.  I'm sure everyone is tired of the Polar Vortex by now.  Well it is certainly polar around here today with the triple threat of cold, snow and wind.  This is how it looked at noon today out the office back door. 
And this is how it looked on my computer with the weather report.  Wind chill: - 16.  And I would confirm that as accurate as I put a blanket on my brass monkey.  At least the wind was out of the balmy South.  Imagine if it was a North wind.  Oh to be on a Pacific island...somewhere nice and warm.  Wouldn't that be nice?
Well it was, at least while it lasted.  The previous week myself and a bunch of happy AgroLiquid Area Managers, some growers, some company personnel and spouses (and some other family members in some cases) all congregated at the Kauai Beach Resort on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  This was the view I had for the week.  That was so nice of them to include the rainbow at no extra charge.
Every morning the sun came up at around 7:18.  That's a.m.  And most mornings there would be a group of people out to watch and take pictures.  So of course I was there just about every day.  There are plenty of Liquid folks in the group of sun greeters below.
Kauai has a strong agricultural history.  It was once a leading producer of sugarcane.  In fact there used to be 11 sugar mills on the island.  But the last sugarcane crop was harvested in 2009 at the Olokele Mill below.  It had been in operation since 1889.  Well maybe not that exact building, but on that site.  I can remember when at least two of the mills were running.  In fact Mr. Cook and I visited the Olokele mill several times in the past and he had some fertilizer plots in the cane fields that we would visit.  (That was also pre-digital, so I will have to look for those pictures some day.)
You used to see sugarcane growing all over mostly on the West side of the island all along the slopes.  That lighter color is still some volunteer cane and other grasses.  Now there is a large presence of seed companies.  But it is mostly down lower on the flatter ground.  More on that shortly.
One of the times when the group gets together is for the banquet.  Our emcee for the event was none other than Senior Sales Manager Galynn Beer.  Galynn, as he often does, had his own dress code of coat and tie.  And a bow tie, no less.  You can't even tell that it's a clip on.
There was a great Hawaiian band.  They were really good and fun to listen to.  They sang mostly in Hawaiian.  The language only has 11 letters, and lots of vowels.  And each vowel is pronounced separately, even if they are next to each other.  Interesting because all of the streets and places on the island are Hawaiian words.  So you can't remember anything.
As I said, there are several seed companies on the island doing seed research and developing parent lines with enhnaced yield and genetic traits.  There lies the problem.  A lot of people are afraid of the term "GMO" or Genetically Modified Organism.  So there are a lot of people who don't know about or don't want to know about what is going on, and are trying scare tactics to rid the island of seed research.  They are telling that GMO's are like pesticides that are sprayed on the crops, and other such nonsense, just to scare people.  There are "No GMO" signs all around, but mostly on the other side of the island.  They don't understand that it is part of the plant itself which enables substantial reductions in pesticide use.  And the improved genetics enables defenses against bugs and chemical products only. People don't have the systems that the plants affect.  So there is no danger to us humans.  There is legislation in the works to stop GMO work on the island.  Hopefully that won't take effect.  It would have a huge economic effect on the island as well as in the seed industry itself.
I was in a restaurant/bar in my Ag PhD "All Weeds Must Die" t-shirt just to see if anyone would notice.  Well one guy did, but he congratulated me for wearing it.  He was a retired ag retailer from California who was in the know on such things. 
There were several tours available to the group during the week.  I went on the visit to Dow AgroSciencs where they do seed research.  It was around on the West side of Kauai. It had rained that morning, and this is the view from the farm.  Wouldn't that be a nice view from work?  One new side industry on the island is a rum distillery.  Well they use sugarcane sugar, and now there isn't any.  Except right here at Dow.  In fact that's the dark green plant at the base of the rainbow.  They are the sole producers of cane sugar now for the rum business so they can say it's totally produced on the island.
But mostly they are in research for seed development.  This farm has around 3500 acres and grows corn, soybeans and sunflowers.  They mostly do research and develop parent seed lines for breeding.  Oh, and they also use Pro-Germinator.  So that is why they are able to grow such good crops.  But they are the only company on the island that produces a marketable hybrid seed corn for farmers to plant.  But that is sold in Canada.  Not sure how that came about, as shipping to Canada can't be in a truck or train. We are looking at a plot of test corn in the pic below.  The electric fence is to keep out varmints like feral hogs which can do tremendous damage.
Here is some of the GMO corn that we were looking at.  They are working on the Enlist corn and soybeans, that are tolerant to 2,4-D applications.  Hopefully it will be registered someday.  Also there is development of improvements of the Herculex package.  In the pic below, that is the backside of the Olokele sugar mill shown earlier.  But they have their seed processing facility down there too.
Later that same day a group of us visited the Pacific Missle Range Facility.  Or PMRF for those in the know.  It is pretty much at the end of the road on the NW side of the island.  It is run by the US Navy and has quite a few jobs to do.  Formost is the protection from foreign missle attack.  It will shoot down whatever is a threat as the Westernmost anti-intrusion facility.  We didn't get to see any actual missles, but they are there somewhere I guess.  We did get to see this thing in the picture below.  Not sure what it is which is probably just as well.  That way I won't betray any secrets should I be captured and tortured.  They also do R&D work for missle defense systems of our allies.  They make quite a bit of money this way which helps to keep this place open.
Another thing they do is tow out targets for practice  Well they use these remote controlled boats to tow out the targets.  We got to play with the remote control joystick.  It was fun.  Some of us got on the boats like real Navy people.  Here we see Big Steve at the controls while Troy and Kerry are the crew.  The Navy person was really nice and tolerable of this Liquid invasion.  She said they all like being stationed in Hawaii.  Who wouldn't?
Later we all ate at the base restaurant which was really nice.  Then it was time for sundown and everyone came out to watch.  Since we were staying on the East side of the island, this was the first sundown that I had seen this week.
Here is a crew all ready for the big sunset event.  We see Stephanie and her farmer husband Ryan, Galynn (strangely not wearing a coat and tie) and my wife Cathy.
And here it is.  Goodnight sun.  That island to the right is Ni'ihau. It is 17 miles across the channel from Kauai.  It is privately owned by the Robinson Family who are decendents of the Sinclair familiy who purchased the island from the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1864.  It is not open to the public, and is inhabited by around 150 people who are native Hawaiians.   And Hawaiian is the first language.  You have to be born there in order to live there.  And once you leave, you can't go back.  Now that's strict!  They make the famous and expensive Ni'ihau shell necklaces that sell for thousands of dollars.  I have been across there several years ago on a tour boat, but we couldn't go ashore.  But we snorkeled off shore.  It was interesting.  It is really dry there and doesn't have much tropical vegetation.
Well after a few more days it was back to Michigan.  But after being in the Aloha spirit, it took awhile to re-adjust to winter.
But quickly, reality set in.  Sad.