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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- WILL WORK FOR GENES

by: Wes Ishmael

“Just look at it,” said Uncas Binglemeyer. He swept a gangly arm from east to west as if he was giving his visitor a first glimpse of the Promised Land.

“Which part?” wondered Hooter.

“All of it,” said Uncas, seemingly startled by the question. “Every inch of land before you has been planted to BING 129C. Unless I've miscalculated, within two weeks this will be lusher than the best short-grass country, rain or no rain.”

All Hooter saw was the same native ground he'd always seen here, heavily populated with soap weed and Mesquite with just a hint of Big Blue Stem and Buffalo Grass.

“No disrespect, Uncas, but I don't see what the fuss is about.”

Rather than being surprised or disgusted, Uncas simply said, “That's because you don't see the grand plan, Hooter. As usual, you're too focused on the short term and only what you can see with your eyes.”

“No argument there.”

Germinating Potential

Long-time followers of Hooter McCormick may recall that Uncas Binglemeyer—a friend of Hooter's since 4-H, with a unique worldview—revels in genetic possibility.

Until now Uncas had reserved his interest exclusively for animal genetics. First there were his experiments with dogs when he was a boy. He was crossing Labradors and Poodles decades before this and other designer canines became all the rage. Next came cattle, the result of which was the Binglemeyer I composite, which included no fewer than seven breed components.

“How's the market coming on the composite?” Hooter had asked when he first arrived.

“I have more genomic proof on these cattle than any in existence,” explained Uncas. “I can tell you their DNA for everything from carcass tenderness to disposition to feed efficiency. All, places these in the upper echelon of the industry I might add.”

What Hooter figured Uncas couldn't tell him, though, was how these heavy-fronted, square-shouldered, pencil-gutted beasts could ever get a cow bred; or, if they succeeded, how on earth the calf or cow would survive the calving process.

Hooter hadn't seen Uncas since a trip in search of pasture last year got him introduced to a fellow by the name of Ralph Prattleman—an heirloom meat processor and gourmet sausage king. Ralph had given Hooter a taste of his latest concoction—Nectar of Napalm—which Hooter later counted as one of his life's near-death experiences.

A year hence and Uncas was back on the phone, asking for Hooter's help in developing a marketing plan for a new genetic product that would revolutionize the world.

“Think of oil, now think bigger,” Uncas had nearly shouted into the phone. “Now, think of ethanol, only bigger. See you soon.”

If it worked with Peas…

Back in the metal Quonset shop that he now referred to as his laboratory Uncas gave Hooter the grand tour of greenhouse grow-boxes with plants in varying degrees of growth, and death.

“I call it switch-wheat, for a generic term,” proclaimed Uncas. “That's what you saw transforming the pasture out there. That's what is going to transform the cattle and energy industries as we know them.”

Simple as that.

“You call it what?”

“Switch-wheat.”

“Which is?”

“Oh, don't be so thick, Hooter. It's a combination of switch grass and wheat, with a little secret something else thrown in for good measure. Understand, the wheat is a European feed variety.”

“Uh-huh.”

Uncas took Hooter by the arm and led him to a blackboard that took up most of the south end of the building. It was crammed with scientific notations and equations so small that Hooter couldn't begin to decipher them.

“It's all there,” said Uncas pointing at the board. “At the risk of being too simplistic, let me explain.”

What ensued was an hour's lecture on how U.S. policy aimed at decreasing the nation's dependence on foreign oil was turning the livestock industry upside down because of high grain prices.

“Just suppose we could even replace much of the corn lost to ethanol with the distiller's grains that result from the distillation process, what happens next? I'll tell you what happens next. Proteins that used to get shipped north, like cottonseed meal and soybean meal, stay closer to home, which should dilute some of the price impact. Then what? I'll tell you what, those very distiller's grains will also be used to produce ethanol. So, the whole market gets turned inside out again.”

As always with Uncas, the logic started out swell.

“Next,” continued Uncas, “You will see rapid expansion of the cellulosic production of bio-fuel, starting with distiller's grains but then moving to something else. This is that something else.”

“Switch-wheat?”

“Specifically, Binglemeyer 129C. Based on my experiments, I estimate I could get as much as 10 tons per acre of the switch grass, which would be equivalent to about 1,000 gallons of bio-fuel per acre.”

Hooter pondered a while. “Supposing all of that is true, why not just concentrate on the switch grass?”

“Don't you see, it's the classic hedge, a true dual-purpose crop. If the ethanol industry goes bust, you've still got prime cattle feed. The wheat adds protein and gluten. It's perfect.”

Hooter thought some more. “You said earlier you expected to see that pasture out there to be lush with or without rain. How do you figure that?”

Uncas beamed like a full moon on a snowy mountain night. “That's the secret, that's the little something extra.”

“Do tell.”

Uncas rushed to close the shop door, looking furtively from side to side first. He whispered, “I've added some of the same alleles that give seaweed its tremendous water retention ability. It's not really genetically modified, just a little enhanced.”

As always with Uncas, the logic continued to be meticulous right up to the point that it veered wildly into an assessment or prediction that no one else could ever make.

“I didn't know seaweed was noted for water retention.”

“Have you ever seen any that wasn't wet?”

“But…”

“Think of it,” shouted Uncas. “Seeds that can germinate and mature with only the moisture available in the soil at the time of planting.”

“What if there isn't any moisture?”

“But there will be sometime.”

“Huh?”

“You just wait until it rains. This stuff will grow any time of the year.”

“But…”

“On top of that it's a perennial.”

Hooter gave Uncas time to get lost in his thoughts. “Supposing all of that's true and suppose planting whenever it rained wouldn't pose any problems with planning, marketing and whatnot, how do you harvest the stuff?”

“The cattle eat it.”

“I mean if you want to harvest it for fuel production?”

For the first time, Uncas was truly nonplussed. “How do you think you harvest it? Have you ever heard of a windrower, a baler, a combine. Don't be silly.”

Thinking back to the field of Uncas's dreams and the fact it would be tough for goats to maintain their balance in parts of it, Hooter realized there was no point in arguing.

“So, what do you think?” said Uncas after a long silence.

“Uncas, I think that I've got some left-over bluebonnet seeds in the pick-up that I'll leave with you, just in case.”

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