Saturday, September 08, 2012

Study says wind energy development increases personal income and creates jobs in rural counties

After all the cheerleading and naysaying on the matter, at last, a systematic analysis of how wind energy development affects rural counties has been done. That study, in the current issue of Energy Economics, shows that wind energy development increases both personal income and employment in the county where the development is located. The paper was authored by Jason P. Brown and John Pender of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, Ryan Wiser and Ben Hoen of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Eric Lantz of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The Daily Yonder breaks down the complexities to explain that "the economists looked at wind capacity installed in 12 states from 2000 to 2008. The states included Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. In all, the study area included 1,009 counties. Their findings concluded that for every megawatt of wind power capacity installed, total county personal income increased by $11,150 over the 2000 to 2008 period. And, for every megawatt of wind energy installed in a county, one half of a job was created." (Read more)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Western N.C. county hopes its prescription-drug task force will address high rate of overdoses

One hundred people die every day from drug overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and almost three out of four of those are due to prescription drugs, according to the National Institutes of Health. Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that began in Appalachia, and as one western North Carolina county deals with the issue,  a local newspaper is putting it on the public agenda.

Wikipedia map
Yancey County (Wikipedia map) has "one of the worst rates" of unintentional overdoses of prescription drugs in the U.S., said Yancey Mitchell Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force chair Mechelle Akers. The task force presented information to the Yancey County Commission this week, reports Jonathan Austin of the Yancey County News. In 2008 to 2010, the county had 13 overdose deaths. Akers, who is a pharmacist, said the numbers exceed North Carolina and Yancey's neighboring counties' overall rates.

Seventy percent of those who overdose from prescription drugs get them from family members or friends, Akers said. The "flood of painkillers has swamped law enforcement," Austin reports. There were 102 drug arrests in 2002, and 800 last year. Angel Light Counseling addiction specialist John Williams told Austin: "Addiction to drugs is the largest problem our society faces, and legally prescribed medication constitute a large percentage of this problem. With the economy the way it is, people are more depressed and worried. They seek some kind of relief. They turn to something that alters their consciousness to reduce their worry." (Read more)

Hurricane Isaac helps some drought-stricken areas, leaves others behind

Even though Hurricane Isaac re-hydrated much of the very parched Midwest last weekend, meteorologists and agriculture experts say a large portion of the U.S. remains "desiccated with ponds still too shallow to water cattle, fields too dusty for feeding and crops beyond the point of salvage," John Eligon of The New York Times reports.

The drought has actually worsened in some places, shifting the greatest exceptional-drought area to the Central Plains, from South Dakota to North Texas. "Isaac's rains were like Chapter 1 in the drought relief book," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist David Miskus. "We still need a lot more rain to go here to really eliminate this drought." States including Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma got very little rain, and conditions could get worse because of a forecast of hot temperatures this week. Miskus said many of those areas will remain in or be upgraded to extreme and exceptional drought. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor map, Sept. 7)
Click map for larger version
Areas from Arkansas through Missouri to Illinois saw anywhere from two to eight inches of rain, which was a welcome sign for farmers preparing to plant wheat, Eligon reports. In Illinois, 72 percent of pastures were rated in poor to very poor condition this week compared to 90 percent last week, and poor to very poor fields in Arkansas dropped 12 percentage points to 72 percent, according to the USDA. (Read more)

Genetically modified corn may be leading to pesticide-resistant corn worms

The Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing one of seed-giant Monsanto's genetically modified corn strains for fear that it might be creating a pesticide-resistant worm that eats corn. The action is a response to a scientific study released last week that found western rootworms on two Illinois farms that had developed resistance to insecticide produced by the seed corn. (ThinkProgress photo)

The worm hinders corn's ability to draw water and nutrients from the soil, and caused about $1 billion a year in damages and pesticide bills before Monsanto's seed was developed about a decade ago. Pesticide-resistant worms were first documented last year, Jack Kaskey of Bloomberg reports. Monsanto spokeswoman Kelly Clauss said studies in Iowa and Illinois don't confirm resistance in the field, and that more data is needed to prove resistance. (Read more)

Sen. Grassley, Farm Bill authority, says Congress won't have time to draft new bill this session

There is not enough time to fix the current Farm Bill that expires at the end of this month, Sen. Charles Grassley, an authority on the topic, said this week as Congress returned after the August recess. Grassley said Congress will likely include a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill in a continuing resolution that lawmakers have to consider later this month.

Grassley said there was no sense of "farm revolt" in response to Congress' inability to pass a new Farm Bill, and that a one-year extension of the existing Farm Bill "should prevent any backlash from developing," reports DTN/The Progressive Farmer. He also said Congress will likely pass a drought disaster aid bill. Even though an extension will likely be implemented, it doesn't mean Congress will stop work on a new Farm Bill, DTN reports. It could act any time during the lame-duck session after the November elections, or in early 2013.

DTN is available by subscription only, but free trials can be accessed here.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Farmers use more direct access to consumers to build relationships and explain their practices

Farmers are having direct contact with their consumers more and more as a result of farmers' markets, the local food movement and community-supported agriculture, in which consumers agree to buy farmers' produce. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers' markets have increased by 9.6 percent, to about 8,000 markets, since last year. More direct conversations are happening between farmers and consumers, and this can strengthening the relationship between them.

At the farmer's market in Lafayette, Ind., beginning farmer Neil Moseley, right, is able to educate shoppers about his organic farm practices and address concerns they might have about "big agriculture," which his brother practices, reports Sarah Gonzalez of Agri-Pulse. He can also tell shoppers about pesticide and herbicide use, and evolving conservation practices that maintain soil quality, protect sensitive land and preserve water quality. "The best part of what I do is getting that interaction with people," Moseley said.

Direct interaction with customers is a vital part of public relations for Moseley's farm, Gonzalez reports. He's also utilizing social media to interact, reaching more than 2,200 Facebook users. "We didn't realize we'd have to do these things when we started," he told Gonzalez. "There's so much to the marketing side of this it's baffling."

Gonzalez's article is a good example that could be replicated almost anywhere in the U.S. Agri-Pulse is a subscription-only newsletter, but offers a free, four-week trial here.

Gas drillers and farmers in West fight over water

Increased natural-gas drilling, which uses water-intensive hydraulic fracturing to obtain gas, has started a race for water in the West between companies and farmers. A single well can require five million gallons of water, and companies are snatching up what they need at water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants, often leaving farmers high and dry in the arid landscape, reports Jack Healy of The New York Times. (NYT photo by Matthew Staver: Water tanker is filled to supply drilling site)

Environmentalists and farmers are concerned the deep pockets of energy companies will give them the edge in getting water rights, and this summer's drought amplified those concerns, Healy reports. "I don't think in reality that the farmer can compete with oil and gas companies for that water," Colorado corn and alfalfa farmer Peter Anderson told Healy. "Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours."

In average years, farmers pay about $30 for an acre-foot of water from local or state governments. Right now, oil and gas companies are paying as much as $1,000 to $2,000 for equal amounts, and farmers say they can't afford to match those bids, causing them to lose access to water they may need. Industry officials say the effects on water supplies are exaggerated because companies don't and can't "snap up the rights to streams and wells at the expense of farmers or homeowners," Healy reports. Officials say they lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater, and in some cases buy water rights directly from farmers or others. (Read more)

Rural unemployment continues to rise slowly

Unemployment in rural areas continued to rise in July, reaching 8.4 percent in the 2,000-plus rural counties in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The rate has been rising since April, when it was 7.7 percent. A year ago it was 9.1 percent. Unemployment continues to be slightly higher in urban areas than in rural. In July, unemployment in urban areas was 8.7 percent. Suburbs were lower.
Click map for a larger version
Since last July, almost two out of three rural and exurban counties gained employment, Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder and Roberto Gallardo of the Center for Rural Affairs report. They note "certain regional patterns:" Pacific coast states had a high number of rural counties that lost jobs since July 2011, the Great Plains had job losses, but not in the oil and gas drilling regions. Rural Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Georgia have gained large numbers of jobs. (Read more) (Yonder map)

Rural electric cooperatives join with coal industry to seek changes in Clean Air Act

Rural electric cooperatives are joining forces with the coal industry to defend its use as a major energy source, giving the industry a strong political ally. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is asking for the Clean Air Act to be rewritten to reduce regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions.

NRECA officials Mike Knotts and Glenn English say they want the Clean Air Act to more clearly define "a more certain regulatory environment for utilities, including a future for coal," reports Paul Barton of The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, Tenn. The organization has quite a bit of political clout. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending, the NRECA has spent $2.6 million on 2012 elections so far.

Of all the power plants owned by rural cooperatives, 85 percent are coal-fired, and about 80 percent of the co-ops' energy comes from coal. (Read more)

Researchers look to make farm labor safer for kids

With the help of a tractor-driving simulator, researchers at the University of Iowa and the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin hope to prevent young people from dying in tractor accidents by determining when they can safely operate farm equipment. Results of the study could eventually be used to revise voluntary guidelines for parents and employers about when youth are ready to use certain equipment. (Associated Press photo by Nati Harnik: Mark Gregoricka, 12, operates simulator)

There was much national debate earlier this year about the safety of children working on farms after the Obama administration proposed child farm labor rules that would have restricted the kinds of work children under 18 and 16 could do on non-family farms and adopted a narrower definition of "family farm" that had been used informally for a decade. The proposal was dropped, but the fact remains that teenagers are four times more likely to die on a farm than in any other workplace.

Researchers are studying cognitive development skills in youth while they drive tractors, because children of different ages process information and make decisions differently, The Associated Press reports. Eighty-eight children, aged 10 to 17, will perform a variety of simulated tasks while their speeds, use of brakes, accelerations and eye movements are recorded. The hope is that the simulator can pinpoint differences in the children's performance. (Read more)

Kaiser Foundation video explains health reform

For those of us who find health reform confusing, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation has done a favor. Its video "Health Reform Hits Main Street" wrestles the topic down to a 9-minute, animated movie that will "explain the problems with the current health care system, the changes that are happening now, and the big changes coming in 2014," the foundation says.

The foundation promises that viewers will learn "more about how the health reform law will affect the health insurance coverage options for individuals, families and businesses with the interactive feature 'Illustrating Health Reform: How Health Insurance Coverage Will Work'." Whether you actually learn that, we figure, is up to you, but they have given it a good try. Watch the video by clicking on this website where a link will take you to the video. It's also available in Spanish.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Republican and Democratic platforms differ on gun control, other criminal justice issues

The Democratic National Convention adopted the party platform yesterday, suggesting additional gun control by a call for "an honest, open national conversation about firearms." The Republican platform opposes any new gun control.

Ted Gest of The Crime Report reports the Democratic platform proposes new funding to "help keep cops on the street and support our police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians," something they say Republicans and Mitt Romney "have opposed and even ridiculed."

The parties agree on prisoner rehabilitation, with Democrats touting the Obama administration's the creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011 to address prisoner re-entry. The party also "made a point of backing work by government at all levels to 'combat and prevent drug crime and drug and alcohol abuse,'" Gest reports. It's worth noting that party nominees do not formally embrace these platforms. (Read more)

Obama orders VA to focus on mental health, with special emphasis on rural areas

President Obama signed an executive order Friday directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand mental health services and suicide prevention efforts, with a special emphasis on rural areas, which provide a disproportionate share of military members, Megan McCloskey of Stars and Stripes reports. Much of the order contains initiatives that were announced earlier in the summer by the VA.

The order instructs that any veteran with suicidal thoughts be seen by a mental-health professional within 24 hours, a standard already set by the VA but rarely met, McCloskey reports. In many areas of the U.S., psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are sparse. To address this, the order directs the VA to partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to utilize community services to help meet demand. The agency will also create 15 pilot sites in underserved areas by contracting with local facilities, and it must create a plan for rural areas, which could include a mental health professional sharing program, McCloskey reports.

The VA put together a 21-person team in June to begin addressing these issues, and it has until June 2013 to hire just under 2,000 additional mental health staffers and the issues with pay, loan repayment, scholarships and partnerships with community-based providers to lure more mental health employees. (Read more)

Two Kentucky towns 'go undercover' to give each other different perspectives on themselves

Ever wonder what someone from another town might think about yours, and how those first impressions could help you better your community? The Christian County Chamber of Commerce in Hopkinsville, Ky., did, and invited near-neighbors from Henderson to do an "undercover" investigation of their county seat to give them a different perspective of their community. (Wikipedia map: Hopkinsville in red, Henderson, approximately, in blue)

About a dozen Henderson residents traveled to Hopkinsville this summer, anonymously touring the town, taking notes for their report, "1st Impressions." The crew, at least some of whom had never been to the town 72 miles to the south, said during a Chamber meeting last week that they previously thought of Hopkinsville as "crime-ridden and rundown in its older areas," reports Nick Tabor of Hopkinsville'sKentucky New Era. After their visit, they said they were impressed with development and downtown businesses. They also had some suggestions: more locally-owned business should be downtown, and the downtown needs more beautification.

Kentucky New Era graphic by Tom Kane
Tabor reports the Henderson group's recommendations were nothing new to Chamber officials, who have already included the suggestions in the county's strategic plan. Chamber President Carter Hendricks said, "It's good to have validated that the strategies we've been implementing need to continue to be implemented." The chamber has agreed to send volunteers to "go undercover" in Henderson in the future. To see the Henderson group's report, click here (subscription required).

Hopkinsville has a population of almost 32,000, making it the sixth largest city in Kentucky. It's about an hour and 15 minutes north of Nashville and about an hour and a half south of Evansville, Ind., and Henderson. The latter town has a population of 29,000, and was once home to noted ornithologist and painter John James Audubon.

Wolves in Rockies going off endangered list; activists say hunting laws will threaten them

Wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain region of Wyoming are finally poised to be removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but activists fear new state laws that expand hunting and trapping of wolves will threaten their newly established numbers. (Yellowstone National Park photo)

The agency announced the wolf population in Wyoming is officially "recovered," just like those in Idaho and Montana. When the decision takes effect in September, it will mark the end of a 17-year wolf recovery process in the region, Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times reports. Wolves had recovered so much in some places, ranchers were reporting frequent deaths of livestock, and state laws had been expanded to allow ranchers to protect herds with killing and trapping. In some instances, state agencies had employed helicopters to aerially kill wolves.

Legal action is expected from activists in Montana, where they contend newly authorized wolf traps could threaten Canada lynx, and in Wyoming, where critics argue that the state's wolf-control laws could "leave them vulnerable to wholesale killing through most of the state," Murphy reports. In Idaho, a proposed law would allow live-baiting of problem wolves with dogs, something attorneys for Earthjustice said has been discussed in Wyoming, too. (Read more)

Researcher says nanomaterials could have 'profound' negative effect on food crops

Nanomaterials, which are created by manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale, may be harming the quality and yield of food crops, University of California researchers concluded in a report released in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The materials are being used in many consumer products,which  including shampoos, gels, hair dyes and sunscreens, which are washed into the environment. Researcher John Priester told Bobbie Mixon of the National Science Foundation that as their uses increase, the likelihood of nanomaterials contaminating food crops rises. "Conventionally treated wastewater is a primary source of normally nutrient-rich organic materials applied to agricultural soil, and farmers beneficially use this treated water and the biosolids from it as fertilizer," Mixon reports. "As nanomaterials become more prevalent, there is concern about nanomaterials buildup in soils and possible nanomaterials entry into the food supply."

There had been no previous study of the affects of nanomaterials on a soil-based crop, so researchers grew soybeans, a major global commodity, in soil containing high amounts of nanomaterials. They found that two nanomaterials -- cerium oxide powder and zinc oxide -- "could profoundly alter soil-based food crop quality and yield," Mixon reports. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Volunteer emergency medical services becoming less prevalent as they run short of volunteers

Volunteer EMTs in Maddock, N.D.
Volunteer emergency medical service squads appear to be dying out as rural populations change and EMS evolves. Volunteer squads have long been the sole emergency responders in many rural areas, reports Candi Helseth of the health-oriented Rural Assistance Center, but according to a 2010 study, "Rural Volunteer EMS: Reports from the Field," 69 percent of 49 local EMS directors in 23 states reported problems recruiting and retaining volunteers.

The North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center study reported three main reasons for loss of EMS volunteers: high numbers of retirees or elderly in rural areas are unlikely to have physical strength required for EMS, many working-age individuals leave rural areas to find jobs elsewhere, and volunteers have too many obligations to cover weekends. Voluinteer fire departments have reported similar problems.

Almost three-quarters of the all-volunteer EMS agencies hosted fundraising events to get necessary funding, requiring further time commitments. At least one-half of these agencies have started some type of paid compensation, but it's still less than maintaining a full-time staff. Twenty percent of EMS leaders reported being "uncertain of their ability to maintain future service," and 8 percent were "frankly pessimistic" about the future. (Read more)

Drought is undermining home foundations

This year's oppressive drought is causing problems for thousands of homeowners across the Midwest. Soil has been sucked dry of moisture, causing homes to sink into the earth, cracking foundations and walls that must undergo repairs. Drought related home damage has been reported is 40 states, and the total amount of damage could reach $1 billion, Jim Salter of The Associated Press reports. (AP photo by Jeff Roberson: Repairmen fix drought damage in Missouri)

Repairs usually cost thousands, can run into six figures, and often aren't covered by insurance. Home-repair businesses, especially those dealing with basements and foundations, can barely keep up with demand. Homes in the central U.S., from Louisiana up through the Dakotas, are bearing the brunt of such damage, but damage is being reported throughout the country. Dayton-based Basement Health Association board member Dan Jaggers told Salter this year's drought has been the worst for homes since the 1950s. (Read more)

Drought's short-term impact on food prices pales in comparison to global, long-term factors

The massive drought that hindered much of the Midwest's food production caused food prices to rise this summer, and they will probably rise more, but Science Daily reports much broader factors will have a longer and heavier impact on rising food costs than any U.S. drought.

Food marketing professor John Stanton told Science Daily that price increases from drought are short-term, while increasing demand from the rest of the world for crops including corn will affect prices for years. "The biggest cost in a box of corn flakes isn't the corn," Stanton says. "It's everything from the price of oil to transport the product to the marketing and the packaging. So something like the cost of oil will have a much more lasting effect on the price of your cereal than the supply of crops." (Read more)

Seminar on covering oil and gas drilling, with a field trip, set Sept. 27 in Youngstown, Ohio

Many rural areas are seeing a boom in drilling for oil and natural gas, which are more complex and perhaps more risky enterprises than ever before. To make sure journalists know enough to cover the subject, a half-day seminar will be held Sept. 27 at Youngstown State University in Ohio to "explain everything there is to know about the subject," say the sponsors: the Ohio Newspaper Association and the local newspaper, The Vindicator.

The program will include how horizontal hydraulic fracturing works, the economic impact of drilling, the environmental debate over drilling, and much more. After the program there will be an optional tour of drilling facilities. We recommend you do the whole day, including the field trip. You won't learn everything there is to know, but you don't have to. The cost to attend is a very reasonable $30, which includes lunch. For more information and registration, click here.

Monday, September 03, 2012

After officials berate reporter, publisher calls them out face to face, and in paper, for violating bid law

After the commissioners of Crawford County, Missouri, "verbally attacked" a Cuba Free Press reporter who had asked questions about road projects and spending, according to the Missouri Press Association Bulletin, Publisher Rob Viehman confronted the commissioners and asked why they hadn't given the weekly newspaper two records it had requested: a list of bids for road materials and planning records for this year's road work. (Wikipedia map)

His questions, and the commissioners' answers, revealed that the county had been disobeying state law by not seeking bids for the materials. "I'm not saying you didn't get a fair price, but we don't know if you did," Viehman told them. "We just want you guys to follow the rules."

Viehman wrote in an editorial: "Not only does the bidding process give the taxpayers the best deal, it provides the elected officials with cover and accountability. It’s to our commissioners’ benefit to take bids on everything they can so they can tell the voters, their neighbors, 'We asked for bids and we accepted the bid that we felt was best for us because ... ' By not taking bids, our commissioners can’t say that. Taking bids could also get the taxpayers a better price on items that may only be available locally from one vendor. If the only asphalt supplier in Crawford County has to submit a bid for their product, isn’t it more likely they will reduce their price out of concern a nearby competitor might underbid them? If bids aren’t taken, however, that can never happen. By not taking bids, our commissioners don’t know if the taxpayers got the best price for asphalt, rock and culverts. That’s the problem!" (Read more)

Tool allows detailed examination of inspection reports from nursing homes all over the U.S.

Journalists now have a tool at their fingertips that will allow them to find out about problems in their local long-term care facilities. (iStock photo)

The application is operated by ProPublica, a nonprofit, investigative news group, and allows "anyone to easily search and analyze the details of recent nursing home inspections, most completed since January 2011," report Charles Ornstein and Lena Groeger.

The tool has features that the federal government's Nursing Home Compare tool lacks, including the ability to search using any keyword. Results can also be sorted according to the severity of the violation, and by state. It has already resulted in several significant news stories, Ornstein reports, giving examples and tips on how to use the application.

About 1.5 million people still live in nursing homes nationwide, though more seniors are living at home or in assisted-living facilities. The reports show there were almost 118,000 deficiencies cited against 14,565 homes. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the average number of deficiencies for a nursing home inspected in the U.S. is eight. ProPublica's analysis shows Texas had the most deficiencies in the country by far, with 183. 

While ProPublica ranks the states, nursing-home industry officials say "inspectors in different regions of the country have different thresholds for issuing a citation, and that could unfairly make one state's homes appear worse than another's," Ornstein and Groeger report. (Read more)