Friday, May 18, 2012

Rural economy in Midwest, Plains keeps growing

The rural economy in the Midwest and Great Plains continued to grow this month, despite a decrease in farmland prices for the second month in a row, reports Ross Boettcher of the Omaha World-Herald. The Rural Mainstreet Index, based on a Creighton University survey of rural bankers, measures the growth of rural economy in an 11-state region. On a scale from 1 to 100, with numbers over 50 representing economic growth, the May index for the region was 58.5, compared to 57.1 in April.

Bankers across the region said loan demand from farmers continues to increase while checking deposits decreased. This means that for every $1 deposited, 64 cents was loaned. The hiring index in the states was "essentially flat," reports Boettcher, and some states fared better than others, with Iowa's index increasing to 60.2 percent from 58.3 last month. Nebraska's index fell, though, from 52.2 to 50.1. (Read more)

USPS's proposed rural post-office hours highlighted in new interactive map

The U.S. Postal Service announced its new plan for rural post offices last week that will affect almost 13,000 offices nationwide. The agency will host community meetings in rural areas in the coming months to discuss with residents options for their offices: replace it with a "village post office," or postal counter inside a private business, close the office and rely on rural delivery, or keep the office open with reduced hours -- to six, four or two.

Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office provides a link to an interactive Google map and table that can be accessed here. The map shows the proposed reduced hours of operation at all the rural offices in question.  Hutkins also provides instructions about the various way to use the map.

Screenshot of Google map
The USPS announced yesterday it would start consolidating 48 mail processing centers in July. It would consolidate an additional 92 in February, and another 89 early in 2014, reports Ron Nixon of The New York Times. The agency expects to save $2.1 billion when the consolidations are complete in 2014. In all, about 28,000 positions will be eliminated because of the consolidations.

Appalachian coal production continues to falter

One of the largest coal mining companies operating in Central Appalachia reported first quarter losses on Appalachian coal operations. Arch Coal lost about 41 cents per ton of coal it mined, and Appalachia was the only region among the four where the company mines in which it had a los. Arch reported first quarter earnings of $1.2 million in the region, compared to $55.6 million last year.

Arch CEO John Eaves told WVNS-TV the "severe weakness in U.S. thermal coal markets" had a big impact on first quarter earnings, and has caused the company to reset its 2012 earning expectations. He also said the company is "furthering curtailing" of its production. Arch has recently closed five operations in Appalachia, eliminating about 500 jobs.

Another factor is the rise of natural gas production, the cost of which continues to drop. It also may reflect what many within the industry have come to accept: the increasing difficulty of mining Appalachian coal reserves. (Read more)

Federal whistleblower committee will help workers understand their rights

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced this week its intention to create a Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee to help workers better understand their rights as whistleblowers. Dani Friedland of Meatingplace reports the committee will "advise, consult with and make recommendations on ways to improve efficiency, effectiveness and transparency" of the agency's whistleblower protections.

"Workers who expose securities and financial fraud, adulterated foods, air and water pollution, or workplace safety hazards have a legal right to speak out without fear of retaliation, and the laws that protect these whistleblowers also protect the health, safety and well-being of all Americans," David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said in a statement. OSHA enforces whistleblower provisions that protect employees who report workplace violations in various sectors of American economy. (Read more)

Warren Buffett buys 63 newspapers, most of them community weeklies

Billionaire Warren Buffett is now one of the largest newspaper publishers in the U.S., and one of the larger community publishers. His company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc, bought most of Media General Inc.'s papers for $142 million this week, giving his conglomerate 17 daily and 46 weekly newspapers. Buffett said he made the deal because "there is no more important institution than the local paper" in small communities, and most of the newspapers his company bought serve small communities. He told shareholders he still views newspapers "as the primary source for local information," Reuters reports.

The deal gives Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary BH Media Group newspapers in the Southeast, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and three other Virginia papers: The News & AdvanceNew Era-Progress and Nelson County Times. Most of the papers acquired by the company are in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama, reports The News & Advance, of Lynchburg. Last year Buffett bought the Omaha World-Herald, for which he was one a paperboy. He also owns the Buffalo News and is a major shareholder of The Washington Post Co. For the World-Herald's story, with a list of the daily papers being bought, go here.

Benchmark Capital analyst Edward Atorino told Reuters that "Berkshire Hathaway is clearly taking a vote of confidence in small-town local newspapers" because they didn't buy Media General's struggling Tampa Tribune, which is a large daily in a limited competition with the foundation-owned Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times.

It may seem hard for some to understand Buffett's investment in what many have said is a dying industry, but Jeff John Roberts of Paid Content says the deal makes a lot of sense for Buffett, who will make much money from the deal. The deal establishes a loan and credit line to Media General in which Berkshire Hathaway will earn 10.5 percent, and Roberts says the lack of competition, both in print and online, for small community newspapers keeps them profitable. (Read more)

UPDATE, May 21: Channeling Bill Freehling in the Free-Lance Star of Fredericksburg, Va., and others, Andrew Beaujon of the Poynter Institute gives other reasons for Buffett's purchase, and those of newspapers by other wealthy people.

The news was greeted with enthusiasm in Bristol, Tenn.-Va., where the Bristol Herald Courier won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2010. Virginia-side City Manager Dewey Cashwell told the paper, "This is like Zeus coming down from Olympus." (Read more)

American Farmland Trust economist warns of forces that could create 'a new Dust Bowl'

Former USDA Economic Research Service Administrator Katherine Smith warned in Washington Wednesday that political and market forces could combine to create a “perfect storm” of elements that could contribute to a new Dust Bowl in parts of the Great Plains. Jim Webster, writing for Agri-Pulse, notes that Smith, who is now chief economist for the American Farmland Trust, pointed to three principal elements as harbingers for the coming storm: "an increase in tillage of cropland to combat herbicide-resistant weeds, the economic incentives of high market prices for major program crops and the likely cutback in USDA conservation program payments to farmer's after budget cuts in the next Farm Bill." (Read more)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Univ. of Nebraska to launch Rural Futures Institute

"University of Nebraska researchers believe they’re building an infrastructure that will help revitalize rural parts of their state that, in many cases, have been shedding residents for half a century or more," Mitch Smith writes for Inside Higher Ed.

UNL has announced its intent to create an institute that would draw expertise from across Nebraska and beyond to improve those communities. The Rural Futures Institute is set to launch in September, reports Kevin Abourezk of the Lincoln Journal-Star. The institute initially plans to use $1.5 million in existing funds to get started. 

The institute will be “focused on a problem, a problem very important to Nebraska but [that] has implications above and beyond Nebraska,” said Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of the school's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The rural futures institute would encompass many disciplines: “You’re talking about health, nutrition, business development, telecommunications systems,” said Green. A conference on improving rural communities last week in Lincoln drew 475 people from 29 states and several foreign countries.

Newspaper series focuses on water crisis looming for 30 million dependent on the Colorado River

The West is fast running out of water. Its lifeblood, the Colorado River, reports Utah's Deseret News, "is being hemorrhaged by cities, by farms and ranches, by power plants and by the more than 30 million people who depend on its water in the United States and another 6 million people in Mexico." (Photo of the Colorado River in Southern Utah by Tom Smart)

In a three-part series aimed at explaining the extent of the crisis, reporter Amy Joi Donoghue writes that this year's flows "are near historic lows with runoff about a third of average, pushing the seven states that share the river toward another year of drought." And, continues Donoghue, "Those stresses are further trumped by the dire predictions provided by the agency managing the Colorado River system, forecasting demand far outstripping supply during the next 50 years, reaching crisis levels within two decades. It reveals a coming tug-of-war over water resources that may pit state against state in the fight for new development, jobs, housing and force an answer to one of the West's most enduring questions: Who is entitled to the water?" (Read more)

More problems facing the region is offered by Jodi Peterson, writing in The Goat Blog on the High Country News website:
1) A U.S. Geological Survey study predicts that within 15 years, the population in the region served by the river will increase to 45 million.
2) By 2050, climate change will warm the basin and dry out its soil to an extent not seen since the 1930s Dust Bowl.
3) By the end of this century, the basin will see a 20 percent decrease in runoff, thanks to warming temperatures and earlier spring runoff.
4) Snowpack across the basin was well below average this year, less than half of normal.
Severe, even record-setting drought is foreseen for Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. (Read more)

Alabama legislature adds public-notice feature to immigration law, keeping its core in face of U.S. suit

The Alabama legislature on Wednesday tinkered with the state’s controversial immigration law, keeping certain portions intact and adding a new provision that would require publication of the names of undocumented immigrants who appear in court, even if they are eventually acquitted of the crime, reports Bryan Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser. The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Robert Bentley to sign.

The bill kept in place the measure that has generated the most controversy: the requirement that police verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. The law drew a suit from the U.S. Justice Department last year. Politico's Tim Mak provides the legal lay-of-the-land since: "In October, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked parts of the law that would require schools to verify the immigration status of students. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently waiting to rule on a case challenging a similar immigration law in Arizona. That case was heard in April. It was not immediately clear what the legal impact of the tweaks to Alabama’s law will be in regard to the legal action underway against the state."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Charges against coal mining giant whose crimes killed 29 get little national coverage -- why?

Robin L. Barton of The Crime Report wonders out loud why "if someone, say, gunned down 29 people in a mall or blew up 29 people in an act of terrorism, there would be tons of press surrounding both the crime itself and the progress of the resulting criminal charges ... but corporate crimes, even the ones involving the deaths of workers, don't seem to be treated like 'real' crimes." She's talking about the crime of allowing illegal and hazardous conditions to persist in violation of federal minimal safety standards at the Upper Big Branch mine. The coal mine, owned by Massey Energy, exploded on April 5, 2010, causing the deaths of 29 miners. Barton points to criminal conspiracy charges against a mine supervisor to hide fraudulent record books from federal investigators looking into the disaster. The resulting behavior was deemed so heinous that it resulted a record $209 million in fines and compensation to the families of the dead and injured.

Continuing investigations and more criminal charges are possible. And, yet, marvels the former Manhattan district attorney, every step along the way -- every indictment, every trial, every twist and turn -- the local media like The Charleston Gazette has followed but the nation's biggest mouthpieces have not. She compares this to the coverage given the killing of Trayvon Martin, and wonders where the outrage for the 29 dead in West Virginia is.

Barton writes: "Given the current climate of anger and resentment toward Wall Street and big business, you’d think the public would rally against an employer believed to have wantonly endangered its workforce to benefit the bottom line." She fears corporate safety crime, is not "sexy enough." Or journalists are too overworked. Still, "maybe the public would have protested -- if they were more aware of Massey’s conduct."

Oil industry chief says 15% ethanol-gas blend bad for cars; renewable fuel folks call that 'bad science''s Dan Piller writes that the American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard contended Wednesday that studies by the Coordinating Research Council have shown that gasoline with 15 percent ethanol could damage vehicle engines. This follows Gerard's criticism last year of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to expand the blend limit of ethanol to unleaded gasoline for vehicle use from 10 percent to 15 percent. He called those decisions "premature and irresponsible.” The agency "approved E15 knowing ongoing vehicle testing had not been completed. Worse ... it approved the fuel even though government labs had raised red flags about the compatibility of E15 with much of the dispensing and storage infrastructure at our nation’s gas stations.”

 Monte Shaw of the Iowa Renewable Renewable Fuels Association said the study is “just bad science.” “What they did was use a very aggressive form of ethanol blend, about a 17 percent blend, and didn’t use the 10 percent blend as a baseline,” said Shaw. “So you don’t know how much of that engine damage might have happened anyway.” The EPA’s approval was for automobiles of the 2001 model year or later. The API, which represents the largest oil companies, opposed the expansion of the ethanol blend. About 10 percent of the gasoline used in the U.S. now is made up of the ethanol blend. (Read more.)

The Coordinated Research Council, known as the CRC, is a non-profit research and testing organization made up of the automobile and oil companies. Piller writes that Gerard spoke to the larger issue of the widening gulf between the petroleum industry and the biofuels industry. Federal law requires blending of increasing amounts of biofuels in gasoline, and most of the gasoline now sold in America has ethanol in it.

People with college degrees increasingly cluster, but not in rural areas; bad for rural economies

College-educated people in this country used to be more equally distributed in this country, reports the Daily Yonder. And while the percentage of people in the U.S. who have a college degree has increased dramatically in both rural and urban areas since 1970, those with college degrees are clustering in some counties and not others. This diversity is a demographic divide with serious economic consequences.

The map below shows the distribution of adults (those over 25 years of age) who had a four-year college degree in 2010, when 27.9 percent of U.S. adults had such degrees. The counties in blue had a higher percentage; those in red were at the national average or below.

The map below is for 1970, when 10.7 percent of U.S. adults had a college degree.
“Obviously education is important for the individual, but it’s also important for the community,” said Mark Partridge, a rural economist at Ohio State University. “The higher share of your population that has a bachelors degree, the higher the income of the population. It's good for raising employment growth and wages for everyone." There is a self-reinforcing pattern, write Bill Bishop of the Yonder and Roberto Gallardo of the Southern Rural Development Center. "Companies increasingly need college-educated workers and so they thrive in places where there are more people with college degrees. As these firms expand, they attract more college graduates into the community — and that in turn spurs development dependent on a highly-educated workforce." 

House votes to de-fund American Community Survey as tea-party forces raise privacy issue

Last week the U.S. House, with the votes of most Republicans and four Democrats, passed an amendment to cease funding the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The survey is a continuous update of American's economic, demographic and housing data, as described by homeowners, and, explains The New York Times, "is widely considered a vital tool for business decision makers." In 2006, the Republican-led House touted the ACS program as good for business and communities, yet now sees it as "an unconstitutional breach of privacy." It's an example of the influence of the tea party, which sent dozens of Republicans to the House in 2010.

The Washington Post notes, "The decennial census paints a portrait of the country only in very broad strokes — and only every 10 years, at that. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $400 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year, according to the Census Bureau." UPDATE, May 22: "It is unclear what data the federal government would use to allocate billions in grant money, if the survey is discontinued," Christine Vestal of Stateline reports.

In rural counties, a 2009 Census Bureau report explained, a consortium of human services agencies use ACS data on age, poverty, disability and access to transportation to examine issues of health, aging and rural poverty. They use ACS data to compete for a variety of human services grants and loans. Local public health departments can use the data -- age, race/ethnicity, poverty, education level of parents and single parents) as key indicators of populations at risk for diabetes and asthma. They can help target education and intervention programs through community organizations and school systems. The data can also help evaluate the need and supply of affordable housing.

Arizona governor vetoes bill to take over federal land, calls it unconstitutional and costly

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation Monday that would have allowed the try to state to take public land from the federal government, a fight that several Western states talked about but that only Utah, so far, has decided to wage. Robert Gehrke of The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Brewer, well-known as a feisty conservative, informed legislators that the bill appeared to be "not reconcilable" with the U.S. Constitution and Arizona’s Enabling Act and that it would create uncertainty for holders of leases on federal lands.

Gehrke writes that the governor also pointed out, "If Congress were to transfer control of the land to the state, Arizona would be on the hook for up to $23 million in costs to manage the land, and that it is premature to put fixed dates for action into statute until the state has met its other funding needs. "As a staunch advocate for state sovereignty, we still must be mindful and respectful of our federal system," Brewer wrote. "I understand and share Arizona’s frustration in trying to manage our natural resources with our various partners; however, this legislation is not the answer."

In short, Gehrke notes, "Brewer relied on the same arguments that opponents of similar legislation in Utah raised when the bill demanding Congress turn over nearly 30 million acres of federal land passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert." (Read more.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

College visits and test-prep workshops are the most help to rural students who want to attend college

College visits and workshops to prepare for exams like the American College Test seem to make the biggest difference in rural students' college enrollment rates, a new Mississippi State University study shows. The study was published in The Rural Educator, which is the official journal of the National Rural Education Association.

Researchers found campus visits and ACT workshops were overwhelmingly the factors with the most impact on college enrollment, reports Diette Courrege on Education Week's Rural Education blog. Rural students' average college-enrollment rate of 27 percent is far lower than the national average of 34 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Leaders of grant projects to increase college enrollment among rural students in rural Appalachian counties were asked to participate in the study. They listed several factors that didn't affect college-going of rural youth, but Courrege reports there's no common theme among them, which she wrote was surprising because other studies have found that financial aid, unpreparedness and low parental encouragement as barriers. (Read more)

High school yearbook story about gay teen creates controversy in Tennessee town

A Tennessee town has been wracked with controversy after an article about a gay high school student was published in the Lenoir City High School yearbook, reports Jeremy Styron of the local News-Herald. "It's O.K. To Be Gay," about student Zac Mitchell, left, and his experience of coming out in a small town, is part of a series of short stories about various aspects of student life.

Principal Steve Millsaps said most community response to the article has been negative, and deferred further comment to School Superintendent Wayne Miller, who wouldn't comment, Styron reported. Dueling Facebook groups were established in support of the article and against it. Lenoir City is in Loudon County, just southwest of Knoxville.

School board member Glenn McNish Sr. told Styron he didn't "think that that type of material has any place in a yearbook." Last week, the board "promised parents and residents that a full investigation will be conducted into the publication," Michael Patrick of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports. Chair Rosemary Quillen said "All of us are working toward a permanent solution so that situations like this never happen again." Patrick reports, "Journalism teacher James Yoakley, who supervises the school newspaper and yearbook . . . has said that he believes in allowing the students to direct the production of the yearbook." For the News-Sentinel's first story on the issue, go here.

Styron's story included a comparison: "Conspicuously absent from the dialogue about the yearbook was another that appeared in the annual titled, 'Don't Stare,' in which another student recalls how her numerous piercings and tattoos enable her to more fully express herself." (Read more)

EPA will appeal ruling that upheld permits for largest mountaintop-removal mine

U.S. Department of Justice officials filed notice last week that the Environmental Protection Agency will challenge a judge's decision that overturned the agency's veto of permits for what would be the largest mountaintop removal coal mine, Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled the EPA had no authority to withdraw the Clean Water Act "dredge and fill" permit that had been issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. Environmental and social justice groups have been trying to stop the Spruce Mine since 1998, when it was first proposed. The "dredge and fill" permit was approved by the Corps in 2007 in a "scaled-back" version that would fill more than seven miles of streams, Ward reports.

EPA revoked the permits to Arch Coal Inc. for the mine in Logan County, saying they did not fully consider how mining would damage streams. The agency's appeal goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. (Read more)

Meat industry needs better communication skills, especially social media, expert says

A corporate communications coach has said the meat processing industry needs to better communicate its actions to the public in times of recalls or media crises, reports Tom Johnston of Meatingplace. Gene Grabowski, president of Levic Strategic Communications, said the industry "has a lot to learn about communicating its issues."

He told Johnston the industry was tested this year after the lean finely textured beef controversy was largely created by intense media coverage calling the product "pink slime." That debacle taught the industry "a harsh lesson about the need for meat processors to more quickly communicate their message," Johnston reports. Grabowski said it's "crucial" for processors to participate in social media because customers prefer that method over traditional forms of communication. (Read more)

On Silas House's radio show, Ashley Judd discusses her response to media treatment of her 'puffy face'

Photo by Richard Drew
When the media sent discussions of Ashley Judd's "puffy face" into a viral tailwind earlier this year, the actress responded with an opinion piece defending herself and chastising the media for over-sexualization of women and girls. That piece was quickly swept up into the viral frenzy and received much media attention in its own right. 

The self-proclaimed feminist, activist, humanitarian and Eastern Kentucky native spoke about the episode with Appalachian Kentucky author Silas House on his "Hillbilly Solid" radio show, which aired on WUKY-FM in Lexington last night. She said the piece was a "deeply personal" and private writing she never meant to publicly share. She had "abstained" from media coverage about herself for 10 years, but after her husband, Indy-car driver Dario Fanchitti, encouraged her to read the coverage and demand an apology from the media, she read it, and started writing. 

"I spent a lot of time under a redbud tree, as one should, and wrote it in 20 to 30 minutes," Judd said. She sent the piece to Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, who declined to print it. The Daily Beast picked up the piece and soon it was making the rounds on social networking websites. 

"A lot of people were astonished by the essay because they didn't expect those ideas to come from me," Judd said, adding that she's thought those ideas since her undergraduate career at the University of Kentucky. She said she can't help but notice the "very gendered nature" in which products and movies are advertised and that the over-sexualization and objectification of girls and women "absolutely appalls and disgusts" her. 

The response to the essay was overwhelmingly positive. "I've never been a part of anything like it," Judd said. She insisted the treatment she received from the media is not just something public figures go through, but is something all girls and women experience. "The patriarchy is a system in which we all participate, either willingly or unwillingly," she said, adding that everyone should make themselves more aware of how women and girls are treated in our human society. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Monsanto gets a lot of attention in one bundle today, including gift for agricultural communications chair

The Society of Environmental Journalists gathered a few stories about the multinational biotechnology firm Monsanto Corp. in its headline digest today. In the roundup, the journalism group highlighted current reportage from international and domestic sources. The topics range from the St. Louis-based company saying it has new herbicides for "superweeds," to its funding of a University of Illinois agricultural communications chair, to revealing details about how much the company spends lobbying Washington to approve genetically modified seeds and other decisions that help it.

Monsanto and the university say the goal of the endowed chair "is to help graduates better convey the challenges and technologies of modern farming -- which, the agriculture business believes, aren't reaching the American public," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. "The university's new position comes as the agriculture industry is going on the offensive, waging a public relations campaign to win the hearts of American consumers who are increasingly distrustful of large-scale agriculture and concerned about the lack of transparency in the food system."

The university said the company won't influence who is hired and what is taught, but Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group, who spoke at the univresity's first agricultural communications symposium last year, told the Post-Dispatch, "If you're concerned about presenting a view from a corporate standpoint, the demise of journalism is great news. My fear is that this is another way for Monsanto and big companies to begin to influence, quote, 'ag communications.' I didn't speak to any student while I was at that conference who was interested in becoming a journalist."

"Too often, 'agricultural communications' does not mean journalism, but public relations for agribusiness, sometimes masquerading as journalism," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. The institute is based at the University of Kentucky, one of many schools with a major in ag communications. It's in the UK College of Agriculture, not the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, where Cross works. At Illinois, the chair "will run a recently formalized degree program between the university's College of Media and College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences," the Post-Dispatch reports.

Here's another Monsanto link: our story reporting that Derry Brownfield, who founded and sold a radio network for Midwest agricultural and rural news, was taken off the network and sister networks because of repeated rants against Monsanto's restrictive seed-corn patents and fears by the network's owners that the company would reduce its advertising. "He thought they were bad for farmers, too big for their britches and generally bad for America," said Clyde Lear, who co-founded the network with Brownfield and fired him. Brownfield's obituary is here.

Census: Military veterans disproportionately live in rural settings; lowest percentage in N.Y., D.C., L.A.

The Daily Yonder reports that military veterans disproportionately live in rural communities or exurbia (in towns that lie outside of urban areas but beyond suburbia, in rural settings). And, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, those veterans who do live in cities are much more likely to live in smaller urban areas.

New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles have among the lowest percentage of veterans in the population of any of the nation’s counties.

Rural and exurban counties make up 30.6 percent of the nation’s 22.6 million veterans. But these same counties represent just 25.9 percent of all residents over 18 years of age. Military veterans are 11.7 percent of the adult populations in rural and exurban counties. In urban counties, however, vets are 9.3 percent of those over 18.

Noted farm journalist Stewart Doan dies at 52

Stewart Doan, senior editor at Agri-Pulse Communications Inc., died unexpectedly Thursday, May 10. He was 52. He is survived by his wife, Leslie, and daughters, Lauren, 19, and Sara, 15.

Agri-Pulse Editor and Publisher Sara Wyant noted Doan's "incredible work ethic and dedication," indicating that he had called her from the ambulance on Friday to let her know he would not be able to finish his assignments for the day. "He always thought of others first," she wrote.

Doan was born in Cynthiana, Ky., and for more than 30 years he covered agricultural news for a variety of media, beginning with radio. He was considered the premier cotton and rice journalist in the nation, Wyant writes. Based in Arkansas, he was no stranger to Washington. He was president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting in 1998 and was recognized by the National Cotton Council, the USA Rice Federation and the Arkansas Farm Bureau for his reporting on a wide range of agricultural policy issues.

House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas spoke Friday of Doan's passing: "Beyond being a talented journalist and broadcaster, Stewart was a quality person. His passing is a tremendous loss to all of us who appreciated and respected his fair storytelling and analysis. His brand of reporting on farm policy and his role in our community will be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues." 

Agri-Pulse has established a fund to help for the college education of Doan's children. To contribute, checks should be made out to Stewart Doan's Children's College Fund and mailed to Peoples Bank, 20409 Arch Street, Little Rock, AR 72206. Or you can contribute online at this link. 

Here is a link for a list of proposed hourly changes for specific rural post offices under new plan

A list of each post office affected in the recently announced United States Postal Service plan to reduce hours at 13,000 rural post offices announced May 9, 2012 is now available.

An explanation of the plan, provided by Save the Post Office is available here. To see a history of the plan, scroll the Save the Post Office website for more coverage.

Small Vermont town wrestling over the introduction of a Dollar General to the town common

Vermonters have put up a long and mostly successful fight against any kind of development that they've interpreted as encroaching or threatening the region's unique and historic charm. The New York Times notes that big-box store Target has yet to succeed in getting a story open in the state. Wal-Mart has only four. But Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar now have more than two dozen. And that seems to be enough for some in the small town of Chester, Vt., to take a stand against the Dollar General proposed to open in the small town common. (Photo of Chester,

The Dollar General store in question will be a 9,100-square-foot store on South Main Street. So far, the Chester Development Review Board narrowly voted to let it go forward as long as the store agrees to 35 conditions, including, reports Abby Goodnough, "that is use wood clapboard siding and keep its shopping carts inside."

Goodnough writes that chief opponent Shawn Cunningham is concerned about the town's tourism-based economy, its historic character and that Chester (pop: 3,000) will lose its Vermontiness." Most of the people in Chester now are people who have come from someplace else," Cunningham said. "It's like a lot of Vermont. Why come to a place like this only to have it turn into the kind of place you were trying to leave?"

Cunningham's group could cite state laws to appeal the board's appeal on environmental, aesthetic and other criteria. Dollar General, which has its roots in a tiny store founded in 1939 in Scottsville, Ky., has faced opposition before in other states. In Vermont, though, "the state's preservation trust has been tracking the spread of dollar stores since 2010," the Times reports, "and it provides grant money to citizens groups to oppose them, including Mr. Cunningham's."