Friday, August 19, 2011

Use of corn for ethanol is predicted to exceed use for animal feed for the first time

Ethanol plants are predicted to use 200 million more bushels of corn than the nation's livestock and poultry producers, according the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Crop Production and Supply/Demand report. This is the first time ethanol use estimates are larger than feed estimates, University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group reports for Southwest Farm Press. "That's a first-time-ever type of change," Ron Plain, economist for University of Missouri Extension said. "For forever, feed was the largest single use of corn."

Sustained high corn prices caused many farmers to reduce livestock and poultry numbers to cut costs and get a better price, reducing meat production forecasts for next year, the media group reports. "You have to go back to 1955 to find a smaller amount of corn to be fed to livestock in the U. S. That is going to make things tough for the livestock and poultry industries," Plain said. (Read more)

A new USDA report tracks the expansion of corn production in the last decade and the effect on other crops and land use.

Midwest, Plains economy slowing down, new survey suggests

A survey of bankers in rural parts of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming shows economic slowdown for this region, The Associated Press reports. "The overall Rural Mainstreet index for the region dipped below 50 for the first time this year, hitting 49.3 in August," the story says.

Despite healthy farm income, hiring has declined among rural businesses and "bankers are losing confidence in the economy," Ernie Goss, lead surveyor and economist at Creighton University told AP. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed believe the U. S. will be in another recession by year-end. (Read more)

Railway removes some coal dust information from website

BNSF Railway, shipper of Powder River Basin coal in the Northwest U. S., has removed information from its website following the recent debate about coal dust, according to Eric de Place of Sightline Daily. The website provides a snapshot of the most important environmental, social and economic news affecting the Northwest. The item part of the site's research series, 'The Dirt on Coal'. (The Bellingham Herald photo by Philip Dwyer)

de Place provides a screenshot of the original BNSF's 'Coal Dust Frequently Asked Questions' and reports that he original website said "500 pounds to a ton of coal can escape from a single loaded car" and dust accumulations between rails can undermine track structure and cause derailments or result in fires. The new website does not have this information. (Read more)

Alaska Native corporation will close its chain of six rural weekly newspapers in August; UPDATED

UPDATE, Aug. 19: Edgar Blatchford, veteran journalist and associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, has purchased the last two, of six, Alaskan newspapers scheduled to end publication on Aug. 31. "I appreciate Calista's commitment to rural journalism and I'm excited about the possibility of the Seward Phoenix Log and The Tundra Drums," Blatchford told The Cordova Times. "I see tremendous potential in working with local people." (Read more) Earlier, The Arctic Sounder, The Dutch Harbor Fisherman and The Bristol Bay Times were sold to Jason Evans, chairman of Sitnasuak Native Corp., and his wife, Kiana Peacock, president of an International Association of Machinists union local and chief shop steward for employees of Alaska Airlines, reports the online Alaska Dispatch.

UPDATE, Aug. 3: The editor of The Cordova Times, Jennifer Gibbins, is buying the paper, thus keeping alive the oldest one in the chain. The other papers' last editions have been set for the week of Aug. 15, but "The company said it continues to entertain offers for the individual publications," the Alaska Dispatch reports.

The Alaska Native corporation that has published a chain of six weekly newspapers in rural Alaska for 19 years is liquidating its newspaper company after failing to find a buyer, leaving most of the rural communities without a local news outlet.

Calista Corp. said Alaska Newspapers Inc. is unprofitable and will stop publishing some time next month. ANI publishes The Cordova Times on Prince William Sound, The Seward Phoenix Log on the Kenai Peninsula, The Dutch Harbor Fisherman in the Aleutian Islands, The Bristol Bay Times in Southwest Alaska, and The Tundra Drums in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River Delta (the corporation's service area), The Arctic Sounder in Northwest Alaska and the North Slope, and First Alaskans magazine. Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News, in a comprehensive story, notes that The Cordova Times is 97 years old.

About three years ago, the company brought its field reporters into its Anchorage office, occasionally sending them out to their coverage areas, then re-stationed reporters in (from west on Google map) Unalaska, Bethel, Seward and Cordova. It started a content-sharing agreement with Alaska Dispatch, an online publication founded in 2008 and funded since 2009 by Alice Rogoff, former chief financial officer of U.S. News & World Report. The Dispatch's Craig Medred writes, "Newspapers in rural Alaska have been struggling like those elsewhere as news increasingly moves to the Internet." He notes the withdrawal of the Daily News to its home area, and lists the other dailies in the state and their owners, none based in Alaska.

"We genuinely hope the communities affected by this will find a new media voice to tell their stories," Calista CEO Andrew Guy said in the corporation's announcement.

UPDATE, July 25: The undersigned gave an interview about this story to Mike Mason of KLDG Radio in Dillingham, on Bristol Bay. For streaming audio, click here. For download, here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Advisory panel endorses fracking, with caution

Continued use of hydraulic fracturing in natural-gas drilling has been approved by a U. S. Department of Energy advisory panel "as long as companies disclose more about their practices and monitor their environmental impact," Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post reports. (Associated Press photo by Ralph Wilson)

The panel's report encourages better monitoring of fracking, as the practice is called, and the development of "best practices" across the industry, Eilperin reports."The group offered a different approach to overseeing fracking,"John Deutch, a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who chaired the advisory panel, said in an interview. "You measure, you disclose what you measure, and use these measurements to improve the way you operate in the field and reduce your environmental impact."

The report, which a New York Times editorial endorsed as a "sensible" middle ground between environmentalists who would ban fracking and energy interests that see no threat, is separate from the Environmental Protection Agency's study on the environmental and public health effects of fracking. (Read more)

Rural military participation overstated, but higher than urban

The White House is reporting rural residents, which represent 17 percent of the population, provide 44 percent of military personnel. Bill Bishop, editor of the Daily Yonder says this number is vastly overstated. "Rural communities are providing far more of their young to military service than the cities," Bishop writes. "But the percentage of rural residents in the military is still much less than half of what Vilsack and the White House and the White House Rural Council assert."

The White House appears to have grouped numbers from two different sources together despite any obvious relationship, Bishop reports. The 17 percent rural population figure is from the U.S. Census Bureau, and it appears the 44 percent is from a 2005 Washington Post story. (Read more)

White House spokesman Matt Lehrich admits the 44 percent is from the Washington Post story, but would not would not explain why the White House continues to use the statistic without verifying it with the Defense Department, Howard Berkes of NPR reports.

Suggesting the overstated number is inconsequential, Lehrich told Berkes, "Regardless of how you do the math, the point we were making is clear and important: Rural Americans are serving at a disproportionate rate and are an integral part of our military." (Read more)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Local television station goes off-air without explanation

TV 43, most recently known as Source 16, in Hopkinsville, Ky., aired its last local news coverage on Aug. 5th. The newscast marked the end of a 26-year tradition. The station, once owned by The Kentucky New Era, was acquired by NewWave Communications in April 2010. (Read more)

Little else is known about the closure, as "officials from the station and NewWave Communications . . . did not return requests for comment," The Kentucky New Era reports.

Weekly newspaper publisher remembered

Following the unexpected death of Clyde Briggs (right), 60, former publisher of The Johnstown Breeze, former co-workers paid tribute to Briggs by writing about him. Five journalists and former journalists salute their mentor in this unique collection of stories that provides a glimpse into the practices of one small weekly newspaper. Briggs owned from 1980 to 1997 with his wife Ardis Briggs. (Read more)

Mountaintop-removal documentary criticized for narrow focus

The CNN documentary "Battle for Blair Mountain" is being criticized for its 'jobs vs. environment' approach "

The headline on the web piece is your first sign that the piece needs some help: 'Steady job or healthy environment: What would you choose?'," Kate Shepperd of Mother Jones argues. Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices questions the jobs vs. environment focus and suggests the focus "is devoid of any actual analysis of whether that frame is appropriate." (Read more)

Other flaws include the lack of coverage on public health and reclamation issues, Shepperd says. For example, the documentary doesn't cite recent studies linking mountain-top removal to cancer, birth defects, and lung and kidney problems. When the documentary speaks about reclamation, it focuses on appearance rather than the destruction of an ecosystem. (Read more)

Jeff Biggers of AlterNet Blog, credits O'Brien and CNN with outing Army Corps of Engineers's faulty stream mitigation practices in the film but suggests the documentary failed to "tell the other side" of the story by interviewing residents living under the fallout of mountaintop-removal operations.

Ken Ward writes on Coal Tattoo, the documentary presents "a pretty balanced overview of the different sides of the story." It includes statements by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and local residents -- like Chuck Kenney, a history instructor at a West Virginia community college who question mountaintop-removal and its impacts. (Read More)

The misuse of language and images in the documentary, however, are confusing. O'Brien equated conductivity with toxicity in interviewing Linda Dials, a strip miner's wife, about a test on the stream in front of her home. Conductivity indicates toxicity to life in streams but doesn't indicate toxicity to mammals that may drink from the streams. This point was further muddled when Jim Dial explains that they don't see dead deer. In addition, when the documentary points out that the Spruce Mine would bury seven miles of streams, the video showed a river or very large creek, much larger than the streams that would be buried by mountaintop removal.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Historic bridge one of many deemed 'unsafe'

An historic bridge in Shelby County, Ky., may be closed after it was deemed unsafe in a recent state inspection. The bridge is among several cited in a recent state inspection report as having critical structural deficiencies, and similar reports are available in every state.

The Whoda Thot It Bridge was scheduled to be replaced as a part a two-year state plan, but the bridge was subsequently placed lower on the state's priority list, Lisa King of The Sentinel-News reports. An estimated $1.1 million in repairs are needed, and state officials decided the cost was too high for the rural area that the bridge serves. The bridge is named for a Sentinel-News column written by the late Bennett Roach.

Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger says he has instructed the county road supervisor to be ready to close the bridge Tuesday following the fiscal court meeting, King reports. The length of the proposed closure will be set by the fiscal court and could become permanent pending a public hearing. Officials had hoped to repair the bridge because of its historic value. (Read more)

Study shows less antibiotic-resistant bacteria on organic poultry farms

Poultry farms that switch to organic practices have lower levels of one type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional poultry farms, according to a new study by the University of Maryland.

The study follows a recent Salmonella outbreak in ground turkey that has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, industry representatives continue to dispute that antibiotic use in agriculture may contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

(Associated Press photo by Seth Perlman)

For this study, researchers compared 10 conventional poultry farms with 10 farms that recently changed to organic practices and found "a much smaller percentage of bacteria at the organic farms," The Huffington Post reports, "indicating that the use of antibiotics in animals encourages the spread of drug resistant bacteria." (Read more)

Industry groups question evidence linking antibiotic use with the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. "Antibiotics have been safely used on farms, along with other animal drugs, for half a century to treat and control disease in animals and to improve the animal's overall health, allowing for greater productivity," Sherri Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation told Bill Tomson of The Wall Street Journal.

BIG Center poised to grow jobs

A new program designed to assist small businesses could generate almost 125 jobs and nearly $6 million in private investments during its first five years, Katie Roach of WYMT News reports.

The Business Innovation and Growth (BIG) Center in London, Ky., is part of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation, which serves 22 counties in southern and eastern Kentucky. The services provided by the BIG Center are designed to accelerate the growth of small businesses and, as a result, create jobs.

"We would like to bring in businesses that are high growth that can bring in jobs," Jim Carroll, the center's director told Roach. "Have them here for a year or two, then graduate them onto renting something back in their home county" and give another business access to the center's resources, Carroll said. (Read more.)

The facility helps small businesses by providing access to office space, training rooms, conference rooms, and other resources for as little as $150 per month.

To read the Times-Tribune, Corbin, Ky., coverage including a listing of start-up companies, click here.