Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fewer Cows, More Milk and Lower Real Prices

Updated:

MP: The Tableau interactive graph above presents an amazing story of increased productivity in milk production over time, from an average of 5,410 pounds per cow in 1924 to 20,079 pounds in 2009, for a percentage increase of 271%. Or we could say that today's cows produce 3.7 times as much milk as cows in the 1920s. It's also true that we are producing record levels of milk in the U.S. with record low numbers of cows, and the significant improvements in milk productivity have dramatically lowered the real price of milk over time. Wholesale milk prices (adjusted for inflation) today are about 75% lower than in the early 1930s, less than half the prices of the early 1980s, and are now close to the lowest level in history.

This dramatic increase in the productivity of milk production is probably similar to productivity gains in most other U.S. agricultural products, and explains why we only spend 9.6% of our disposable income today on food (2008 is most recent year), compared to the 25.2% of disposable income spent on food by Americans in 1933. The productivity gains in farm production also explain why we now only have 2.6% of our labor force working on farms to produce record levels of agricultural output, whereas it used to require 90% of the labor force in farm production in the late 1700s to feed the country (see CD post here for data).


41 Comments:

At 5/18/2010 9:41 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

this is actually very scary stuff.

it's not that we have developed super cows, but rather that we have found ways to make existing cows give far more milk.

the primary method is giving the cows huge doses of estrogen.

http://jds.fass.org/cgi/reprint/85/4/797.pdf

this results in higher concentrations of estrogen (and a different kind - synthetic estrogen is not the same as organic and can be considerably more harmful) in the milk.

http://envirocancer.cornell.edu/Factsheet/Diet/fs37.hormones.cfm

there are a variety of health concerns that arise from this ranging from increases in many kinds of female cancer to early puberty in girls and weight gain and even pendulous breasts in boys.

bottom line:

not all innovation is good for you. i'm a huge believer in innovation, progress, and man's ability to produce more with less, but sometimes, it has serious consequences, particularly in food.

another good example are truck ripened fruits and vegetables. picked green and allowed to ripen in transport, they have much lower vitamin content that fruit allowed to ripen fully. the difference is very clear to taste.

pasteurization does the same thing.

sure it makes food cheap and readily available, but there is a downside as well.

please don't take this as some argument for going back to growing our own food, it's not. but, processing food and treating the animals we get it from with hormones do have effects and the FDA is pretty soundly asleep on many of these issues, so it's worth getting the facts and making informed choices.

 
At 5/18/2010 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You still need more cows today to make a living than you did in 1920.


During the past 100 years the U.S. dairy industry has experienced a broad array of major changes including:

*A sharp reduction in total cow numbers,
*A near six-fold increase in average production per cow,
Substantially greater total annual milk production,
*A steep decline in the number of herds,
*But a large increase in the cows per herd,
*A shift in cow numbers from the north and east to the west,
*A cow population now dominated by Holsteins, but a recent resurgence of Jerseys,
*A decline in the per capita consumption of whole milk equivalent and fluid milk, but a marked increase in the consumption of cheese.


===============================

"synthetic estrogen is not the same as organic "

I don't know where this idea comes from. As a chemist I have synthesized a number of complex compunds, and they are indistinguishable from the natural compounds by any known means: molecular weight, spectrum, physical and chemical properties, crystal structure, etc etc.

If anything, the synthetic will have less impurities, but that has nothing to do with whether the compound in question is the same or acts the same.

What is true is that estrogen is not a chemical but a family of chemicals, and so a synthetic of a different compound may be more powerful than a natural estrogen of a different type.

But the implication that a synthetic is more powerful, harmful, or chemically insidious than a "natural" ingredient by virtue of it being "non-natural" is just wrong, and it contributes to a nationwide case of (sometimes, or even mostly) unfounded chemophobia.

 
At 5/18/2010 10:12 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Fabulous article. The productivity of cows and farming is the underpinning of the amazing progress of the US and the world. The greenies will pronounce it terrifying. They apparently hate everything new.

Also fabulous is the Tableau software which displays the data. It is very pricey. What is the price of being able to publish graphs on the Internet?

 
At 5/18/2010 10:26 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Just a hunch, but I think this will prompt Benji to enlighten us with a quick tutorial on subsidies/dairy price supports and the GOP.

 
At 5/18/2010 10:40 AM, Blogger misterjosh said...

In Canada, you have to have a cow license to produce dairy. With such barriers to entry, it seems like their cows should be even more productive than our cows.

and so the stats on this website would seem to indicate: http://www.cdc.ca/cdc/index_en.asp?caid=87&pgid=2196

9,642 kilograms = 21,256.9713 pounds per cow. vs 20,079 pounds per American cow.

 
At 5/18/2010 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taste of vitamins.

Fourteen vitamins are known to be important for human health. Some are polar molecules and some are not, but all nutrients must be disolved before they become available for use.

Polar molecules cannot enter the taste cells but are trapped by receptors near the taste pore. they are disolved by the saliva and the "taste" from them is actually the taste of intermediate reactions that generate and carry a stimulus to the taste cell.

Truly fresh, right off the plant vegetables do seem to taste better thn truck ripened ones, but I would wager that despite this belief, most people would fail a blind taste test.

In any case, the idea that they taste better because they have more vitamins is probably wrong (many vitamins taste bittter), as is the idea that they have More vitamins.

This much i do know. If you go pick fresh corn from your garden in the cool morning, take it IMMMEDIATELY into the house and blanch and freeze it, yu can have frozen corn in Feb that is nearly indistinguishable from fresh.

But if you delay only a few minutes (going to he farmers market, buying "fresh" and bringing it home won't work) the sugars start to convert to starch and the result is not the same.

Likewise, if you actually grow a chicken that has to work for a living, it tastes dfferent from the cage grown factory variety.

So, if you go for fresh, whole milk, don't let your cow eat the spring onions or the milk will taste like onions, and enjoy all those natural protozoa, viruses and bacteria.

 
At 5/18/2010 11:02 AM, Blogger bob wright said...

Headline: Dairy Farmers' Greed Leads to Lost Jobs

Why are dairy farmers greedy?

I'm concerned about the number of jobs lost in dairy farming since 1924.

We need federal legislation forcing dairy farmers to hire workers in order to restore as many dairy farming jobs as possible.

A congressional commission should be empaneled in order to determine the number of high school graduates that will be forced to work on dairy farms in order to restore these lost jobs.

 
At 5/18/2010 11:07 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

"synthetic estrogen is not the same as organic " is correct.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080331093530.htm

remember DES?

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3430065

the fact of the matter is that the only important test for "bio equivalence" is biological activity. synthetics do not work like biologics in this respect.

i know a great deal about thyroid hormones, and synthetic t3 and t4 are described as identical to natural but they aren't. they even have different half lives in the body despite being "chemically indistinguishable" . i have personal experience with this. synthetic t4 acts as an antagonist in me, natural works great.

so, perhaps what you ought to be accepting are the limits of chemistry around complex biological interactions as opposed to claiming knowledge beyond the state of the art.

when biological and synthetics behave differently in the body, but your evaluation calls them identical, the flaw is clearly with the evaluation.

this is exactly why the FDA is so resistant to allowing arguments than chemical equivalence = bio equivalence on biologics and drugs like acthar (made from porcine pituitary) cannot be copied despite being off patent for decades. they know that the "chemical equivalence" you claim does not translate into biological equivalence.

synthetic hormones are different drugs and require their own tests and trials, you can't just say "levothyroxine looks like t4 so approve it" because it is known that those tests are not good enough to guarantee bio equivalence.

 
At 5/18/2010 11:12 AM, Anonymous morganovich said...

anon-

i don't think it's the vitamins you taste but the sugars, which are also different. i'm not arguing you can taste vitamins (though it's certainly an evolutionary advantage) just that you can taste the difference between truck and vine ripened which makes it seem likely that are different.

i have some friends at UCD that did an analysis on this. they found little difference between vitamins in organic and non organic produce, but significant differences depending on how long the fruit was allowed to ripen on the plant.

if you can't tell a truck ripened tomato from one just out of the back yard, the issue is with your taste buds, not the fruit. it's pretty night and day stuff.

 
At 5/18/2010 11:15 AM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Paul, you gotta admit, if farmers can be so much more productive, why are we still subsidizing dairy farmers? Can't these guys stanmd on their own two feet? Or four legs?

Or maybe you believe this huge increase in productivity is due to the ubiquitous rules, regulations and subsidies of the USDA.

Like I always say, if you like our heavily socialized agricultural sector, and if you like the efficient Defense Department, then you will love Obamacare.

 
At 5/18/2010 11:27 AM, Blogger Marko said...

Benji, I finally agree with you - end agri subsidies! I say end all subsidies. Easy to say, hard to do politically, but if I were king I would do that first.

Regarding tomatoes and how they taste, the variety you grow at home is very likely not the same variety as off the truck. One is bred for shelf life, sturdiness and to ripen on the truck. The other is bred to be easy to grow and taste good off the vine. I agree that local grown is better, but the FEDERAL gov'ment interferes with that with their corn subsidies . . .

 
At 5/18/2010 11:38 AM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

USDA subsidies in the United States totaled $245.2 billion from 1995-2009.

Total USDA - Subsidies by state, 1995-2009

Rank State Total USDA - Subsidies
1995-2009 Pct of
Total Running
Percentage

1 Texas $22,822,940,805 9.3% 9.3%
2 Iowa $20,940,915,308 8.5% 17.9%
3 Illinois $17,568,234,640 7.2% 25.0%
4 Minnesota $14,346,020,958 5.9% 30.9%
5. Nebraska $13,958,371,387 5.7% 36.6%

Paul comes that state of federal lard-snufflers, Texas.
Texas faremers are the most mollycoddled, enfeebled, knock-kneed fey weaklings on the planet.

As you can see from the above numbers, hardworking US taxpayers had their earnings confiscated by the federal government and given to dole-snuffling farmers in Texas, more than any other state.

Texas farmers--the worst snivelers and federal lard-eaters on the planet.

And consider this: As federal programs, these subsidies will never end, only grow and grow and grow.

Source: http://farm.ewg.org/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=total&page=states

 
At 5/18/2010 11:55 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>">...and the FDA is pretty soundly asleep on many of these issues..."

Not too surprising, considering the FDA appears to be pretty much owned by the industries it is charged with regulating.

 
At 5/18/2010 12:05 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Paul said:

>"Just a hunch, but I think this will prompt Benji to enlighten us with a quick tutorial on subsidies/dairy price supports and the GOP."

Do you suppose he might also mention Milton Friedman and/or a progressive consumption tax?

 
At 5/18/2010 12:30 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

I only mention MF's progressive consumption tax when it comes to military outlays...that is how MF suggested such outlays be financed.

It would be the least destructive tax to finance out multi-trillion dollar effort to re-shape entire nations, such as Iraqistan.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:09 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...

to hit on a pet topic:

"Wholesale milk prices (adjusted for inflation) today are about 75% lower than in the early 1930s, less than half the prices of the early 1980s, and are now close to the lowest level in history. "

is only true if the milk is the same milk. this comparison is likely quite different if you buy hormone and antibiotic free milk.

this goes to the heart of the hedonic adjustments to CPI which monolithicaly assume that all products get better over time when a number of them get worse.

is bulk milk today really a perfect substitute for milk in 1920? i'd argue that it isn't. lowering prices by dropping quality is not nearly so beneficial as lowering prices due to greater productivity.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:20 PM, Blogger threecollie said...

Somewhere in thirty-one years of milking cows fourteen times a week, I must have missed Dairying-101. Neither here at our family farm nor at farms I have worked on in the past did anyone give the cows "huge doses of estrogen" or anything else. Our dairy cows get forage, grain, vitamins, minerals, and water. When they do need supplemental medication we follow our veterinarian's advice and use approved medicines and dosages. Huge doses of anything would be counter-productive, expensive and probably illegal.
Dramatic increases in milk production are partly due to genetic improvements in cattle and also to much-improved nutrition for them. I promise you that in the twenties a professional nutritionist didn't visit the farm every month to check on the efficacy of the ration. Today such visits are standard procedure. Some farms even have nutritionists and veterinarians on staff full time.
Today's dairy cow is not the cow of the twenties and today's farmer has a far more complicated job than ever before. I thank your for your appreciation of the improved efficiencies of folks in our industry.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I take thyroid hormones too. I observe no difference, in my case.

I can see thee is no point in argung with you: the facts conflict with your pereptions.

I'll just say this: If they are chemically indistinguishable, they have the same atoms in the same arrangement, at the same angle, and the same energy levels. They weigh the same, melt the same, disolve the same. They absorb light and xrays the same, and so on for everything we know how to measure. If we put them in the GC mass spec they break up into parts that are the same.

I'm not claiming anything beyond state of the art. Nor do I need to know anything about what processes happen to them afterward.

If two chemicals are truly the same, what possible mystical causation can there be for one to act differently from another?

I can catch naturally distilled water falling from the sky, or I can make it by burning hydrogen and oxygen. The water is indistiguishable but one is natural and one is synthetic. The naturual one has more impurities in it.

If a natural compound acts differently than a synthetic one, the it is because they are not the same compound, not because one is natural and one synthetic.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

""bio equivalence" is biological activity. synthetics do not work like biologics in this respect."


If a synthetic is exactly the same compound as a biologic it will act in exactly the same way.

I did not start my argument with biologic equivalence but chemical equivalence.

If they are chemically equivalent they will be biologically equivalent, unless there is a difference in the carrier.

If they are not biologically equivalent then they are not chemically equivalent; you are working with two different chemical structures, however you might think otherwise.

But with the degree of analytics available today I don't see how anyone could confuse methyl celluslose with ethyl cellulose, or 1,3 dinitrotoluene from 1,4 dinitrotoluene. Ammonia is ammonia whether I make it from scratch or extract it from cat urine.

With pharmaceutalas the molecules are bigger and more complex, but the process is the same.

The natural v synthetic argument is a fraud.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three collies is right.

The biggest gains are from the genetics in the cattle and better, and more consistent nutrition.

We analyze the feed six ways from sunday to make sure we are providing the same essential compounds in their feed material day after day week after week. When feedstocks change we adjust to get the same high energy as before, or darn close.

 
At 5/18/2010 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they even have different half lives in the body despite being "chemically indistinguishable"

If they have different half lives, they are not chemically indistinguishable.

Whatever causes that difference can be reproduced in the lab (usually accelerated aging techniques) and then they are chemically distinguisahable: one will fail the tet and one won't.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:10 PM, Anonymous grant said...

Has anyone taken into account the quality of life for the cow.
If you have three times as much milk then each cow must have at least three times as big udders and then there is the increase in production per cow so the udders have to be at least six times as big.Poor dam cow.
I suppose this problem could be offset by milking more times per day.
I think an ambassador of Carpe Diem should be dispatched immediately to make a thorough inspection of the problem and then post his report.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:29 PM, Anonymous grant said...

Bob Wright:You should move to a communist country so you can practice socialism there. You make me shake in my boots to think that this union crap is still lingering in this society. DON'T YOU EVER LEARN? Its a great sounding idea that doesen,t work in practice.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:35 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"I think an ambassador of Carpe Diem should be dispatched immediately to make a thorough inspection of the problem and then post his report."

Looking forward to your report when you return.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:41 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Benji,

"Like I always say, if you like our heavily socialized agricultural sector, and if you like the efficient Defense Department, then you will love Obamacare."

You already love Obamacare.

"..if farmers can be so much more productive, why are we still subsidizing dairy farmers? Can't these guys stanmd on their own two feet? Or four legs?"

I doubt many people on this blog ever disagreed with your one-note rant on farm subsidies. But a farmer would be committing economic suicide if he didn't take the subsidies while all his neighbors did. So I don't begrudge them taking subsidies even though I am adamantly opposed to the programs in the first place.

"Paul comes that state of federal lard-snufflers, Texas."

Yeah, I live here so I am guilty too, I guess. Meanwhile, you actually VOTED FOR the nitwit president currently bankrupting the country and gobbling up the private sector at a furious pace.

You have far more to answer for than I do.


"Texas faremers are the most mollycoddled, enfeebled, knock-kneed fey weaklings on the planet."

Have you ever spent a moment on a farm? Only a moron would call a farmer's avg workday "enfeebled."

 
At 5/18/2010 2:43 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"Rank State Total USDA - Subsidies
1995-2009 Pct of
Total Running
Percentage

1 Texas $22,822,940,805 9.3% 9.3%"


$22 billion, that's it? Benji's boyfriend spends that much on his parasite constitutents before breakfast.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if farmers can be so much more productive, why are we still subsidizing dairy farmers?


Because we pay them even less for what they produce than the gains they have made in productivity. at teh same time we demand more and more unpiad services from them for environmental stewardship.

I have a farm ledger dating to 1900. Looking at that, it is not so hard to see how they made a profit and I don't.

For one thing, their life in the farmhouse was not so different from the animals in the barn: same heat, and electricity. Same health insurance and pretty near the same lifespan.

 
At 5/18/2010 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But a farmer would be committing economic suicide if he didn't take the subsidies while all his neighbors did.

Most of his neighbors don't take subsidies.

8% of farmers get 95% of all the subsidies.

The rest do without and most of them ARE committing economic suicide.

 
At 5/18/2010 3:07 PM, Anonymous morganovich said...

anon-

that's just not so.

the point is that lots of things that are claimed to be chemically identical are not when introduced into a biological system.

ask an endocrinologist. lots of people fail on allegedly identical synthetics then succeed on biologics.

it's why drugs like armour still exist.

how did they catch floyd landis for cheating in the tour de france? by finding synthetic testosterone that could not be natural (not just his ratios) and therefore was conclusive evidence of banned substance use?

if they are identical, how is that possible?

is your claim that estrogen is different?

remember DES?

"synthetic estrogens started being used to increase the size of cattle and chickens in the early 1950s. DES was one of the first synthetic estrogens made and used commercially in the US to fatten chickens. DES was also used as a drug in human medicine. DES was found to cause cancer and its use in food production was phased out in the late 1970s."

 
At 5/18/2010 3:08 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"8% of farmers get 95% of all the subsidies."

But Benji has declared them ALL to be dress wearing nancy boys. At least in Texas, Iowa, and wherever you live.

 
At 5/18/2010 5:34 PM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

All the same. Morganovich has me scared.

I don't want to grow tits from drinking subsidized Texan milk. Paul grew up in Texas drinking Texan milk, and now he wears a "bro"--a bra for men.

Texas farmers may talk tough, but they put on their "bros" when it comes time to get an unearned allowance from Uncle Sam.

Look, you don't want to be a dairy farmer, then don't be a dairy farmer. I know its hard work. If you lose money, then quit. But please, don't have Uncle Sam rob me to pay you an allowance, and then brag about how tough you are.

So is making furniture tough. I never got diddle-squat from Uncle Sam to be in business, even while Chinese imports flooded the country and destroyed domestic manufacturing. I got blown out baby. Too bad, waa-waa, and on to the next business.

 
At 5/18/2010 5:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever Wonder Why European Cheese and Ice Cream Tastes Better?

It is because they did not have this increase in milk production. Most of this increase is the result of switching to cows that produce more milk. The downside is that the milk contains less butterfat which is what gives cheese and ice cream its flavor.

 
At 5/18/2010 6:01 PM, Blogger Paul said...

"Paul grew up in Texas drinking Texan milk, and now he wears a "bro"--a bra for men."

Looks like you know as much about me as you do farming. I didn't grow up anywhere near Texas.


But we do know you voted for Obama. I implore you, Benji, please sit the next few election cycles out. You and your boyfriend have done enough damage already.

"I never got diddle-squat from Uncle Sam to be in business, even while Chinese imports flooded the country and destroyed domestic manufacturing."

And if some protectionist Democrat douchebag had imposed import tarrifs on Chinese goods then I'm sure you would have quit the business. Out of a sense of honor.

Riiiggght.

 
At 5/18/2010 6:55 PM, Anonymous Ellie Fields said...

@Tom: To put live interactive graphs on the web is actually free, as long as it's public data for public use. You can download Tableau Public free at www.tableaupublic.com. We made it that way because at Tableau we're all data geeks and hate to see data be a second-class citizen on the web.

Tableau Software's corporate products start at $1k for one user, but believe me it's worth it if you need it.

Glad you like the viz!

 
At 5/18/2010 9:58 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Bob Wright:You should move to a communist country so you can practice socialism there."

Grant, please look up the word "satire", then reread Bob Wright's comment. I think you will enjoy it more the second time.

 
At 5/18/2010 10:08 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

>"Texas farmers may talk tough, but they put on their "bros" when it comes time to get an unearned allowance from Uncle Sam."

So, when I hear people in my city yell "Hey, Bro!" to each other, I can assume they are Texas farmers?

Who would have thought! I had a very different impression. I guess I should get out more often.

 
At 5/19/2010 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At a local ag show here in Australia a farmer was demonstrating how to milk a cow. He said where he had his farm the cows were milked 3 times a day for most of the year and usually produced around 75 litres of milk per day. That's about 3 times the figure mentioned here!

 
At 5/19/2010 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you won't believe me, but here it goes one mroe time.

If it is the same compound, it is the same compound. Does not matter if it is derived from plants or animals, built from scrtach from the ground up, or disassembled from some more complex molecule.

Such compunds will respond in exactlty the same way no matter what est is applied, including bioactivity. They are identically the same and labeling them as natural or synthetic makes no difference as to their properties or behavior.

If you have two similar compunds that behave differently, then they are different compounds and they would NOT be called identical by any self respecting analytical chemist, who could easily find and describe the differences.

l-sugar is ientically the same as regular sugar, except it is a left handed version of the molecule. Looks, tastes, melts just the same as regular sugar.

But because it is left handed, it cannot be digested, and has a different biological reaction. But it is easy to discriminate l-sugar from regular sugar using standard analytical tests.

There is no inherent bias toward some kind of mystical or actual higher quality in natural compounds vs synthetic ones that depends on them being natural or synthetic alone.

If thee is a difference in behavior, it is because youare looking at different compounds.

 
At 5/19/2010 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is that lots of things that are claimed to be chemically identical are not when introduced into a biological system.

I've never seen that happen. If it does, someone made a wrong claim.

 
At 5/19/2010 4:31 PM, Blogger bob wright said...

Ron H:

Thanks. Next time I guess I need to include the "/satire" reference.

So, exactly how many takers do I have for quiting your office job or factory job and moving back to the farm in order to "save the family farm and protect dairy farming jobs"?

Slightly OT:

As a follow up, utility company union members might be interested in this.

According to the nice woman who answered the phone at Reliant Energy, eventually, "smart meters" will be able to be read at the utility company. Meter readers will go the way of buggy whip makers.

Seems as though unions should start negotiating now to force utility companies to guaranty a fixed number of meter reader jobs in perpetuity.

Otherwise, this damn progress stuff is going to put everyone out of work.

 
At 5/19/2010 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This are excellent news.

Now Mark tell me how Social-Democrat-almost socialist country like USA can get the benefits of productivity?

Mostly can't. The Governments, state and federal gets a bigger part of economy while Private sector gets comparatively tinnier because of its productivity.
After certain level Productivity is a hit in growth, don't mistake it it is most excellent news but Social Democracies haven't a way to profit from productivity due to how embedded they are in growth/inflacionist/5 days work model.


lucklucky

 

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