Saturday, October 31, 2015

Trapp gets Gish Award for courage in journalism; West accepts Smith Award for Ky. public service

By Casey Parker-Bell
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Two community journalism giants received awards for their service Thursday night and showed their gratitude while focusing on how journalists can improve their craft.

Bob Trapp accepts the Gish Award
Robert Trapp Jr., publisher of the Rio Grande Sun in EspaƱola, N.M., accepted the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity in rural journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

The award was given to the Trapp family, recognizing the work of his parents, Robert and Ruth Trapp, who started the Sun in 1956 with a partner they later bought out. The weekly paper and the elder Trapp have received many awards, and Institute Director Al Cross said the Gish Award for them was overdue.

The award is named for the couple who published The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years and won national recognition for their courage, integrity and tenacity as they practiced a straightforward style of journalism in the face of opposition from powerful interests.

The Eagle and the Sun have exchanged papers for many years, and members of the Gish family joined Trapp at his table at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington, Ky.

An emotional Trapp was clearly thankful for the award. He explained that his parents had put reporting the truth over advertising dollars, and he pointedly described what he believes will improve journalism at all levels: quality reporting on issues that are important to the community. “That’s what we should be doing,” he said. “Following the stories that affect our communities and trying to improve our communities by doing that.”

In his speech, Trapp called community newspapers “the last bastion of truth in reporting.” Here's a video of the award presentation and his acceptance speech:

Carl West accepts the Al Smith Award
Carl West, former editor of The State Journal in Frankfort, Ky., and founder of the Kentucky Book Fair Committee, accepted the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian. The Institute and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists co-sponsor the award.

West also emphasized the importance of newspapers in his speech. “Newspapers, journalism, it’s a community trust. A public trust,” he said. He highlighted how important accuracy and fairness are to journalists, how downsizing is changing newsrooms (including the one where he remains editor emeritus) and how the people running newspapers should view their service to the public.

“Newspapers aren’t a bank. You have to make money to own one and run it. Sure, but you’re not going to get rich,” he said. “If you are going at it that way, you’re in the wrong business.”

West also spoke about the Kentucky Book Fair and how it has helped fund public libraries in small communities with limited financial resources and has touched thousands of book lovers.

The Al Smith Award is named for the co-founder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, who owned weekly newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and was the founding host of KET’s “Comment on Kentucky.” He also spoke at the dinner.

Nominations for next year's awards will be accepted until April 1, 2016.

Here's a video of the presentation to Carl West and his remarks:

Friday, October 30, 2015

Western states asking counties to lead the charge to get federal land transferred to state control

Western states that have failed to have federal land transferred to state control and are reluctant to spend state money on federal land management are trying a more local approach, Rebecca Beitsch reports for Stateline. States such as Colorado and Utah are "arming counties with money and expertise to help them convince federal officials to hew more closely to residents’ interests."

This year in Colorado, state lawmakers "approved $1 million in grants for counties that want to influence federal land use decisions," Beitsch writes. "County leaders can use the money to hire consultants to evaluate data, provide scientific research or attend Bureau of Land Management coordination meetings. The law authorizing the grants also requires state agencies to provide additional expertise and assistance to counties when they ask for it."

Utah this year "passed a law requiring every county in the state to develop a resource management plan," Beitsch writes. "State Senate Republican Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, who sponsored the legislation, said the new requirement not only helps create a statewide plan but it also prepares counties to deal with the federal government and argue that federal plans should be consistent with theirs."

In 2012 the state passed a law "calling on the federal government to transfer to the state all public land that is not designated as a national park or wilderness area or owned by Native American tribes—about 30 million acres in total," Beitsch writes. "State Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican, said because the federal government did not comply with the 2012 law, the state has set aside $4 million for a lawsuit challenging federal control of the land and is assembling a legal team." (Stateline map: For an interactive version, click here)

USDA launches website that provides tools for young and beginning farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday introduced a new website aimed at new and young farmers, Chris Clayton reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. "The site has links for new farmers, women in ag, youth and military veterans to detail some considerations farmers need to think about when going into farming. The site provides different topics or issues a person needs to consider when getting into farming. The website also has a discovery tool to help answer some questions for people just beginning to look at what it might take to go into farming in a particular state or sector." In 2012, the average age of principal farm operators was 58.3, up 1.2 years since 2007, according to the 2014 USDA Census of Agriculture.

Krysta Harden, USDA's deputy secretary, said on Thursday: “Today’s announcement is symbolic of the evolution of USDA’s efforts to better serve the next generation of farmers and ranchers. What began seven years ago with the recognition that the rapid aging of the American farmer was an emerging challenge has transformed into a robust, transparent, tech-based strategy to recruit the farmers of the future. No matter where you’re from, no matter what you look like, no matter your background, we want USDA to be the first stop for anyone who is looking to be a part of the story and legacy of American agriculture.” (Read more)

When setting clocks back an hour readers should be reminded to also change smoke alarm batteries

This weekend it's time to set the clocks back an hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday. It is also a good time to remind readers to change the batteries in smoke alarms or to install smoke alarms or heat sensors in living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, hallways, attics, furnace rooms, closets, utility and storage rooms, basements and attached garages.

About 2,500 Americans lose their lives in fires every year, states the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), which is teaming up for the 28th year with Energizer for its Change Your Clock Change Your Battery program to encourage safe practices. While 95 percent of homes now have smoke detectors, the problem is that many people fail to keep them in working order. "The National Fire Protection Agency reports that three out of five fatal fire injuries take place in homes without working smoke alarms and 71 percent of smoke alarms that failed to operate had missing, disconnected or dead batteries."

"A working smoke alarm can make the difference in giving you the critical extra seconds to make a safe escape from a fire," states IAFC. "Energizer research has revealed a deadly overconfidence among people about their chances for detecting and escaping from a fire. Thirty percent think they or other family members can detect a fire, and more than 70 percent of individuals think their family would have enough time to evacuate if one broke out. Contrary to popular belief, home fires are often not readily detectible and often don't give families much time to escape. In fact, 20 percent of reported home fires occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and cause half of all home fire deaths. Furthermore, 36 percent of fatal fire victims don't wake up before being injured." (Read more)

Land wars between Native Americans, Washington leaving poorer tribes in the dust

While richer Native American tribes are fighting what they call a hostile Supreme Court and Congress over lands Indians want to reclaim, poorer tribes are the biggest losers in the battle over whose pockets get lined with money, David Rogers reports for Politico. "The fight is less about the justice of returning historic territory and more simply cash—whether measured in the revenues gained from casinos or property taxes lost for local counties. From Oklahoma to California, rich tribes play the political system to protect their share of the gaming markets. Lost is any perspective on the hundreds of poorer tribes just trying to establish some economic foothold and homeland for themselves."

At the center of the debate is the Indian Reorganization Act, Rogers writes. Billed as a "New Deal" by President Franklin Roosevelt, IRA sought to promote "self-governance and tribal sovereignty. Stop-loss provisions were put in place to protect the remaining lands. Most important to the current debate in Congress, the Interior Department was charged with supervising a new lands-to-trust process by which tribes could bring lands under their control. In the decades since, about 8 million acres have been added to Indian land holdings." But in 2009 a Supreme Court "ruling said IRA only narrowly applied to those tribes that can prove they were both recognized and 'under federal jurisdiction' in 1934." (Atlantic Wire map; for a larger version, click on the image)

"The central question most often is where to draw the line between state and tribal authority, two competing sovereigns," Rogers writes. "It’s here where Native American professionals and legal experts say there has been a decided shift beginning with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and now his former clerk, Chief Justice John Roberts. In fact, the 2015 edition of the casebook, American Indian Law: Cases and Commentary, found that the Roberts court had decided 11 Indian law cases thus far and ruled against tribal interests in all but two of them, an 82 percent loss record."

The Obama administration "has sped up approvals for restoring lands to Indian sovereignty; more than 305,000 acres have been approved since 2009," Rogers writes. "And alarm bells are going off now in Congress over new proposed rules drafted by Interior to update the process by which tribes can seek recognition from Washington."

The main problem is that a few powerful tribes control all the money, Rogers writes. For example, in Oklahoma, the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw "account for almost two-thirds of the market shared with 27 other" tribes. Richard Grellner, an attorney with a long history of representing the Plains Indian tribes, told Rogers, “They essentially created a land rush for the preferred tribes who were given special locations to start to grab the market way ahead of everybody else and before the rules were equally applied. Everything since then has been to move the goal posts to protect what was previously done.”  (Read more)

Senate to vote on resolution killing Waters of the U.S. rules; Obama expected to veto resolution

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said on Thursday that she has gathered enough support for a joint resolution of disapproval to overcome a Democratic filibuster to kill the Obama administration's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Ernst, who "didn't say how many senators supported the measure but it would only require a simple majority to pass," said the Senate could vote as early as next week.

"Although President Obama would almost certainly veto the disapproval resolution, the Senate vote would be a test of support for blocking the rule legislatively through a policy rider in the fiscal 2016 spending bill that Congress is expected to consider in December," Brasher writes. Ernst told reporters, “These efforts are the next necessary steps in pushing back against this blatant power grab, and I'm optimistic it will head to the president's desk, where he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked federal agency." (Read more)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Oil and gas industry's high demand for mat logs sending firewood costs in New England soaring

The Marcellus Shale oil and gas industry is being blamed for soaring firewood costs in New England, where a cord is going for $325 to $400, an 18 to 23 percent increase over last year, Rik Stevens reports for The Associated Press. "Pipelines and transmission wires—really any large-scale construction project—have in the past three years ramped up the appetite for the perfect mat log: a hardwood trunk, 16 to 20 feet long and 8 to 10 inches in diameter" used to get heavy equipment over mucky ground, wetlands or soft soils. (AP Photo by Robert F. Bukaty: Bridgton, Maine residents Terri and Bob Tomchak  have stocked up on firewood.)

High demand for mat logs is leading to an increase in prices, Stevens writes. "As a result, the cost of cordwood on the stump (that is, live trees) went from $10 in 2012 in northern New Hampshire to $15 this year," said Jasen Stock, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association. Stock told Stevens, “If you’re putting in a power line or gas line over wetlands or soft soil, they use thousands and thousands of these mats, and they’re made of hardwood logs. If you’re in the firewood business, that’s your sweet spot. That’s the log you want.”

While about 2.5 million households in the U.S. burned wood to keep warm in 2013—2.1 percent of total households—numbers are much higher in New England, Stevens writes. In Vermont, 16.3 percent of households burn wood; Maine, 12.7 percent; and New Hampshire, 7.7 percent. The Pacific Northwest also has high numbers—Idaho, 7.8 percent, and Oregon, 7.1 percent—but the New England winter last year was brutal, while the Northwest enjoyed a milder winter.

High demand and high costs have made firewood scarce in some areas, David Weissman reports for the York Dispatch News in York, Pa. The owners of the area's two local companies say they are already sold out of seasoned wood. Both owners say the number of suppliers are down, leading one to sell out two months ago and the other to sell out earlier this month.

Tyson Foods fires two Mississippi workers after undercover activists release animal cruelty video

Tyson Foods, the nation's largest chicken processor, fired two Carthage, Miss., meatpacking employees on Wednesday after video surfaced of the "workers tossing and punching birds and ripping the heads off some chickens," Kesley Gee and Jacob Bunge report for The Wall Street Journal. The animal-rights group Mercy for Animals said the chickens "were improperly shackled and had missed the kill blade designed to slit their throats."

A Tyson spokesman said, “We do not believe the behavior shown in this video by the two team members we have now terminated is representative of the actions of the thousands of workers we employ across the country.” But it wasn't the first time Mercy for Animals has released video of animal cruelty at Tyson plants. In August, Tyson and McDonald’s Corp., one of the meatpacker’s largest customers, severed ties with a Tennessee poultry farm after Mercy for Animals released video footage of chickens being stabbed, clubbed and crushed to death.

Mercy for Animals, which has now released four videos of animal cruelty at Tyson plants, "said it filed affidavits this week asking a Leake County, Miss., court to pursue misdemeanor criminal charges against Tyson and six employees," Gee and Bunge write. "The group alleges the workers and Tyson violated a state animal cruelty statute on 33 counts and that the behavior documented is 'ongoing and systemic.'" (Read more)

Cuts to crop insurance program approved Wednesday will be restored to bill in December

Cuts to the crop insurance program will be restored to the budget bill, reports Agri-Pulse. "The proposed cut to crop insurers remains in the bill, which the House approved 266-167 late Wednesday afternoon, but the provision will be reversed when Congress considers a fiscal 2016 spending bill in December," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas).

"Conaway, who had argued that the cut was so draconian that it would drive companies out of the crop insurance business, agreed to support the bill and urged other members of his committee to do so," reports Agri-Pulse. "Many GOP committee members still voted against it, including Steve King of Iowa and Randy Neugebauer of Texas, who represent major farm districts." While it was too late on Wednesday to strip the provision from the budget agreement before the House vote, Conaway said, “I have assurances I trust from people I trust that when the omnibus comes around, this will be the first thing fixed."

The two-year budget deal "worked out by Republicans and the Obama administration included a provision to cut $3 billion over 10 years from the crop insurance program to help offset increases to defense and domestic programs," Charly Haley and Donnelle Eller report for The Des Moines Register. "Senators and House members complained they weren’t notified of the crop insurance cut before the deal was struck. The deal would create the savings by lowering the rate of return for companies that sell crop insurance to farmers. The federal government partially subsidizes those companies and insures some of their losses. Crop insurance companies that depend on federal subsidies said in a statement that the cuts could be devastating to the industry."

"House Agriculture Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said Wednesday that many of his colleagues 'made it very clear over the last 24 hours that the attempt to gut crop insurance in the budget agreement was not acceptable,'" Haley and Eller write. Conaway said in a statement: "Our nation's farmers and ranchers did their part in reigning in our nation's debt in the 2014 farm bill, saving an estimated $23 billion."

Some are not entirely convinced that crop insurance will be saved, Haley and Eller write. Wayne Fredericks, president of the Iowa Soybean Association board,  said, "'It’s hard to trust what goes on out there sometimes,' especially since the deal was 'crafted by a small group of leaders in back room.'" He said that "chopping crop insurance support after cutting agriculture support so deeply in the farm bill is 'a slap in the face.'”

Texas irrigation project focused on 'unsustainable' Ogallala Aquifer that serves eight states

A group of northwest Texas farmers are working to slow the amount of water drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer in an attempt to save a system that can't recharge fast enough to replenish supplies, reports Agri-Pulse. The 225,000 square mile underground water, which has been labeled 'unsustainable' by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, provides groundwater to parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. (Agri-Pulse photo: A center pivot irrigation system tests different types of water delivery)

Glenn Schur, who farms near Plainview, Texas, told Agri-Pulse, “We don’t have any more water, so I think it’s more important for us to make every drop count of the water that we do have, and the technology is going to improve.”

As part of the project, through the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, "producers keep meticulous records about things ranging from water use and soil moisture to crop productivity and return on investment," reports Agri-Pulse. "Rick Kellison, project director with TAWC, said the initiative currently covers more than 7,000 acres across 31 sites in nine counties." He told Agri-Pulse, “The goal of the project is to help producers determine ways that they can use less water and still be economically viable. Where water is our primary limiting factor every year as far as our ability to make a crop, that’s a pretty significant undertaking.”

Part of the project includes switching from row water irrigation to center-pivot irrigation and drip irrigation, reports Agri-Pulse. "The switch to drip irrigation and center pivot irrigation allows for more targeted water use, therefore requiring less than what was once necessary under more traditional row water or flood irrigation techniques. Under those methods, water was dispersed in greater quantities, usually in the rows between plants or flooded across the field."

"According to Kellison, the project was originally an eight-year program authorized by the Texas legislature, and it recently received another round of funding," reports Agri-Pulse. "Results demonstrated in the first round included 569 acre-feet of water conserved across all sites from 2006-2012. An acre foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of ground with a foot of water. NRCS also has an initiative to ease the burden on the Ogallala, but its focus is on the entire aquifer rather than focused on Texas. Part of that plan involves a goal of improving efficiency on 20 percent of the 3.7 million acres of irrigated farmland fed by the aquifer.through the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

Rural Upstate New York landowner fighting back against illegal dumping on his property

Dumped trash has been a longtime problem in rural areas. One rural Upstate New York resident, upset that a 200 to 300 pound stainless steel canister was dumped over a guardrail into a creek on his property, has had enough, David Figura reports for Property owner Tom Adessa, who serves as the town constable for the towns of Skaneateles and Spafford, "is offering a reward 'of at least $500' for the arrest and conviction of the individual" who dumped the canister on his land. (Adessa photo: The illegally dumped canister)

Adessa, who said there is no evidence that the canister is leaking anything into the creek, told Figura, "Neighbors have told me individuals over the years have dumped deer carcasses, sheep carcasses, garbage, old signs and beat up ladders down there. The truth is, it's an absolutely beautiful ravine, and I hate to see something like this happen. I'm just not going to take it." He said "it's going to take a winch to get out of the creek, which is about 50 to 60 feet below the road. He said he'll have to rappel down with ropes into the ravine to reach it." (Read more)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

UMWA president says W.Va. should build nation's first power plants that run on coal and natural gas

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told audience members at a conference on Tuesday that West Virginia "should become the first to build new power plants that run on coal and natural gas, keeping coal-mining viable in a state hit by changing market conditions," Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. While Roberts stressed that UMWA is fighting Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan rules, he said West Virginia should prepare to comply with the rules if legal challenges fail.

The Clean Power Plan says that "any power plant built in the future can emit no more than 1,400 lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. The most efficient coal plant in operation in the U.S. currently runs at over 1,800 lbs/MWh," Volcovici writes. "Under the union's proposal, building new plants that run on coal and less carbon-intensive natural gas with technology to partially capture carbon emissions can give coal a lifeline."

Roberts said, "I propose we embark on a program of building next-generation power plants here in West Virginia, co-fired by coal and natural gas that will meet whatever EPA emissions limits for new sources may survive after the litigation process is concluded. We clearly have the reserves of both coal and gas; we have the manpower to get the fuels and the expertise needed to build and operate these new generation plants." (Read more)

Avian bird flu could lead to Thanksgiving turkey shortage, higher prices

The avian bird flu that has killed 20 percent of poultry flocks could lead to a turkey shortage this Thanksgiving, Jere Downs reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Fewer turkeys mean higher prices for consumers. Louisville restaurant owner Marguerite Schadt said restaurant supplier costs for turkeys have nearly doubled, from 99 cents per pound to $1.79 per pound, leading her to raise her price of a 12 to 14 pound dinner with the trimmings from about $135 to $165.

Grocery stores are also reporting increases of prices, with one local chain saying its turkey prices have risen from $1.10 per pound to $1.40 per pound, Downs writes. While grocery store prices are up, "longer-lived, pasture-raised turkeys are enjoying a renaissance driven by consumers—whether they seek historic taste, are concerned about animal welfare or will pay premium to eat birds raised on organic feedstock."

"Identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last December, the 'HPAI H5N1' bird flu virus does not affect humans like the H5N1 virus in Asia, Europe and Africa," Downs writes. "Instead, the new viral strain wiped out commercial poultry farm flocks in 20 states, felling an estimated 50 million birds. While wild bird droppings introduced the virus, the confined conditions inside factory farms resulted in its virulent spread before the epidemic played out mid-summer." (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graphic)

Arch Coal, nation's second largest coal producer, running out of options to avoid bankruptcy

Arch Coal, the nation's second largest coal producer, could be headed toward bankruptcy, Stephanie Gleason and Peg Brickley report for The Wall Street Journal. The company, which has been working on ways to rework its $5.1 billion debt load after an out-of-court restructuring effort fell through, announced on Tuesday that it is abandoning efforts of a debt swap with bondholders "after senior lenders blocked the swap and a New York court refused to intervene."

"Arch appealed the ruling by Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the New York State Supreme Court," Gleason and Brickley write. "However, Arch’s bond exchange offer expired this week, and, rather than trying to extend the timeline, Arch accepted the hand it had been dealt by the courts and on Tuesday announced the exchange offer was off the table."

"GSO Special Situations, a lender and bondholder that had sued to protect the bond swap, has noted in court documents that the failure of the bond swap deal essentially cuts Arch off from the credit markets," Gleason and Brickley write. "The exchange offer would have rewritten provisions in a bond covenant that prevent the company from issuing new secured debt unless it files for bankruptcy." (Read more) (Arch Coal map: Company locations)

Ginseng experiencing a resurgence; 95% of U.S. produced ginseng from Wisconsin

The wild roots of American ginseng are experiencing a "recent surge in popularity, partly due to a reality TV show about Appalachian ginseng diggers," Monica Johnson reports for Civil Eats. "Many in the industry are concerned that all of this attention could lead to its demise, but others contend that further exposure may be the only way to save it." Ginseng, highly prized in Asia as a tonic, is sometimes hard to come by, and collectors often cherish hidden spots. The threat of poaching real, with a repeat poacher in rural North Carolina sentenced in August to six months in prison. (Wisconsin State Journal photo by John Hart: Seasonal workers load ginseng into a tractor-drawn trailer)

"Though not in danger of extinction in most states, Ginseng is considered 'at risk' in some states, meaning that if it’s not protected soon, it could disappear," Johnson writes. "And because it grows in out-of-the-way spots, there is usually no one around to report illegal diggers. Currently, 19 states allow ginseng harvesting, though each one has its own rules. Generally, the plant must be a certain age, usually around 5 years old, which diggers calculate by counting how many leaves each prong contains, and it may only be harvested in certain areas."

One state enjoying a resurgence of ginseng is Wisconsin, where the rural landscape in 11 counties in the central part of the state account for 95 percent of all U.S.-produced ginseng, Barry Adams reports for The Chippewa Herald. "About 70 to 80 percent of the crop, after it is dried in kilns, is packed into barrels and exported to Asia. Dried, cultivated ginseng can sell for between $65 and $85 a pound. Much older wild ginseng, scavenged for in the woods, can sell for more than $500 a pound."

Sales, which peaked in 1996, began to plummet in 2005 because of a decline in world market prices, Adams writes. "Over the last four years, increased marketing and consumers demanding to know their food’s origins." Will Hsu, a second-generation ginseng farmer, told Adams, “I think we’re entering what people might say is the third golden age of this product. This area has an origin story that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. There’s 100 years of history here. It’s very much like France and wine. People know this area for producing some of the highest-quality ginseng in the world.”

Officials from the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin "say that if prices remain stable and the weather cooperates, the state could harvest 1 million pounds of ginseng by 2017," Adams writes. "In 2014, state farmers harvested 720,000 pounds of ginseng, worth $52 million. State farmers last surpassed 1 million pounds in 1999, according to the state Department of Trade & Consumer Protection."

Cuts to crop insurance program threaten budget deal; budget still expected to pass

"Last-minute subsidy cuts to the crop insurance program" have led many Republican leaders to threaten to vote against former House Speaker John Boehner's two-year budget deal congressional leaders negotiated Monday with the White House, Lisa Mascaro reports for the Los Angeles Times. Many lawmakers "threatened to withhold their support for the package if those remained part of the deal because it would make it too expensive for farmers to insure their crops."

The budget deal "would cut $3 billion over 10 years by requiring the Agriculture Department to renegotiate its Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) with the crop insurance companies and lower the cap on the rate of return on premium to 8.9 percent, from the current 14.5 percent," reports Agri-Pulse. "Since 2011, the industry’s rate of return has varied from a loss of 15 percent in fiscal 2012, a drought year, to a gain of 13 percent in fiscal 2014, according to USDA."

"Because the SRA must be renegotiated, the first savings from the cut wouldn’t kick in until fiscal 2018 and then would only amount to $36 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office," reports Agri-Pulse. "By 2021, the annual savings are estimated at $434 million."

Collin Peterson (D-N.D.), the chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture committees and the ranking Democrat on House Agriculture, "said the proposal originated at the White House and that GOP leaders kept the committees completely in the dark until the last minute," reports Agri-Pulse. "Sources briefed on the talks said crop insurance, conservation and nutrition cuts were all discussed, but only cuts to crop insurance were accepted. The White House was equally tight-lipped. Even top officials at the Agriculture Department were unaware of the provision until late Monday, sources tell Agri-Pulse."

The budget does raise spending caps in fiscal 2016 and 2017, reports Agri-Pulse. "Food-safety advocates already are pressing appropriators to use the extra money to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s funding for implementing preventive measures required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition wants to restore cuts that appropriators proposed to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

Senior GOP lawmakers "estimate that between 60 and 120 Republicans will vote for the package as is, leaving Democrats to supply the vast majority of votes," Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report for Politco. "Aides in both parties expect the bill to pass, but the number of GOP defections is a notable rebuke to Boehner and other top Republicans." 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Some state policies are making it difficult for telemedicine to reach rural patients

Telemedicine—a cost-effective way to reach rural patients in areas that lack health professionals—is not reaching its full potential largely because policies in some states "make it difficult to practice, and pay for, such care," Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. (Associated Press photo: A California doctor waits to confer with a doctor at another hospital whose image is displayed on a monitor)

"Some states require that patients be accompanied by a health professional during telemedicine sessions," Ollove writes. "Hawaii, Indiana and Ohio limit Medicaid coverage to patients who live a minimum distance from their providers. Another significant hurdle is the requirement that doctors be licensed in every state where they practice medicine, digitally or otherwise. Because of those barriers, telemedicine advocates say, the elderly, the infirm, the isolated and the busy are being denied full access to needed health care."

The American Telemedicine Association said that 29 states "have parity laws that require private insurers to pay for telemedicine at the same rate as in-person services," Ollove writes. In every state except Connecticut and Rhode Island "Medicaid programs offer at least some coverage for telemedicine." But "about half of state Medicaid programs require that a patient be in some sort of medical facility during telemedicine encounters, rather than at home."

Advocates of telemedicine "say it is not an inferior form of medicine but a vehicle for extending quality health care to more places," Ollove writes. They argue that policies hampering telemedicine are largely "motivated by fear of competition among more traditional practitioners." (Read more)

Farm income for 2015 expected to be $26 billion less than February USDA projections

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's farm income forecast for 2015 is 53.9 percent lower than record numbers from 2013 and 36 percent less than last year, Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray report for Policy Pennings. In 2013 U.S. farmers earned a record net income of $123.7 billion. That number dropped to $91 billion in 2014, the fourth highest total ever. The 2015 projected income is $58.3 billion, down from $84.2 billion projected in February. (USDA graphic)
The decline is because "income, including insurance payments, from feed grains fell by $6.6 billion, oil crops by $3.6 billion, food grains by $2.4 billion and cotton by $2.1 billion," Schaffer and Ray write. "On the livestock side, dairy receipts fell by $14.3 billion followed by meat animals at 7.8 billion. Expenses only fell by $2.6 billion. Direct government payments were $11.3 billion, only slightly higher than the record income year of 2013. As a result, the value of agricultural production fell by $35.9 billion. Direct government (farm program) payments only increased by $1.6 billion from 2014 and were just $300 million higher than 2013 with its record net farm income."

"When the current farm bill was being written, it was hard to convince most farmers, lobbyists and members of Congress that this kind of scenario could occur," Schaffer and Ray write. "Too many were stubbornly convinced that agriculture was on a new plateau. The USDA Agricultural Baseline Projections to 2022, the baseline that people were looking at when the 2013 to become the 2014 Farm Bill was being written, saw net farm income remaining above $90 billion for a far as the eye could see. As a result, effective countercyclical programs that would protect farmers from extended periods of low prices were not considered. Instead the major concern was to protect farmers from short term price declines, even when prices were well above the cost of production." (Read more)

Two southern Kansas counties had more earthquakes in two weeks than state had from 1990-2013; likely triggered by injection wells

From Oct. 15-26 two south-central Kansas counties had 52 reported earthquakes, more than the entire state had from 1990 to 2013, Ryan Schuessler reports for The Washington Post. The state, which had 19 reported earthquakes from 1990 to 2010, had none in 2011 and 2012 and four in 2013, before experiencing 817 in 2014, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The rise in earthquakes is being blamed on increased hydraulic fracturing, especially along the border of Oklahoma, which in 2014 led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher and has already surpassed that total this year. The number of wells in Kansas has grown from 2,000 in 2000 to 7,000 in 2014. (Hutchinson News graphic: Earthquakes from Oct. 14-20 in Harper and Sumner counties in Kansas)

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas, "said fracking has been going on in Kansas since the 1940s, but the recent innovation of horizontal drilling—instead of vertical—requires more water," Schuessler writes. "The wastewater is injected into disposal wells—'not exactly where it came from,'  Buchanan said. He added that the earthquakes are likely being caused by the wastewater disposal wells, not the act of drilling itself," He told Schuessler, “In Kansas, you produce a lot more saltwater than you do oil in the oil and gas production process. We’re dealing with much greater volumes of water than ten years ago.”

Harper and Sumner counties had 40 reported earthquakes from Oct. 14-20, John Green reports for The Hutchinson News. Harper County had 28 earthquakes from Oct. 6-12, including nine on Oct. 11 and seven on Oct. 12, while Sumner County experienced four earthquakes that week, Green writes in a separate story.

Does your local library practice self-censorship?

While Banned Books Week—an annual celebration of the freedom to read—ended earlier this month, some rural libraries adhere to self-censorship, keeping any book off the shelf that might offend locals, Clare Roth and Charity Nebbe report for Iowa Public Radio. A rural Iowa librarian told Roth and Nebbe, "At my library, the last official challenge was ten years ago, so it’s been a long time, but at the same time, we are pretty cognizant of the community we live in, and we tend not to buy books that people are going to have a fit about. There’s a certain amount of self-censorship, especially when it comes to small towns."

"I believe libraries are the last bastions of true democracy; you can find out anything you want to know no matter who you are," the librarian said. "But I also know someone who’s in a library in a town of just over a hundred people who primarily buys Christian fiction because she knows what’s going to go over well. The smaller the library the fewer the dollars you have, so you have to spend it on things your patrons are going to read." To listen to the full broadcast of the radio show, click here.

White House honors 12 as 'Champions of Change' for work in sustainable agriculture

Martin Kleinschmit owns an
organic farm in Nebraska.
The White House on Monday announced its 12 "Champions of Change" in sustainable agriculture, Whitney Forman-Cook reports for Agri-Pulse. Honorees were selected "for using and promoting management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental conditions and grow local economies."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who delivered the keynote address at Monday's event, said, “There's a tremendous amount of progress in agriculture to be celebrated. I think it's important and necessary to use this (event) as an opportunity to bring people together because we have a good story to tell. You have a good story to tell.” The honorees work work "will be planted in the White House Kitchen Garden next week to 'improve soil quality, reduce erosion and increase soil carbon.'”

The Champions of Change are:
  • Anita Adalja, the farm manager at Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, based in Washington, D.C. 
  • William “Buddy” Allen, a producer in Tunica, Miss., and a member of the Macon Edwards Company, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
  • Keith Berns, a co-owner and operator of Providence Farms, a 2,000-acre diversified family-farming operation in Bladen, Neb., and Green Cover Seed, one of the nation's leading providers of cover-crop information and seed. 
  • Larry Cundall, a Vietnam War veteran and fourth-generation rancher from Glendo, Wyo. 
  • Herman “Trey” Hill, the partner and manager of Harborview Farms in Rock Hall, Md., within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 
  • Loretta Jaus, the operator of a 410-acre, rotationally-grazed, 60-cow dairy farm in Gibbon, Minn.
  • Martin Kleinschmit, the owner of an organic farm in Hartington, Neb., that produces grains and raises grass-finished cattle on annual and permanent pastures. 
  • Jennifer “Jiff” Martin, an associate educator for sustainable food systems with the University of Connecticut Extension. 
  • Jesus Sanchez, the manager of Sano Farms, a diversified tomato, almond, wheat, garbanzo and garlic farm spanning 4,000 acres in Firebaugh, Calif. 
  • Erin Fitzgerald Sexson, senior vice president of global sustainability for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, a dairy community forum that works together pre-competitively to foster research and innovation in farm-to-table sustainability. Sexson is based in Rosemont, Ill. 
  • Timothy Smith, a fourth-generation farmer who raises soybeans, corn and cover crops on his family's Century Farm in Wright County, Iowa. 
  • Donald Tyler, a soil management researcher in the Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department at the University of Tennessee.

University of Mississippi removes state flag that includes Confederate flag symbol

A student-led protest led the University of Mississippi on Monday to quietly take down the state flag—which includes the Confederate flag in one corner—from campus, reports University of Mississippi News. "The flag will be preserved in the University Archives along with resolutions from students, faculty and staff calling for its removal."

"On Oct. 20, the student senate voted 33-15-1 to request that the university remove the flag," reports University of Mississippi News. Interim Chancellor Morris Stocks, who in June joined state and university officials in calling for a change in the state flag, told the News, “The University of Mississippi community came to the realization years ago that the Confederate battle flag did not represent many of our core values, such as civility and respect for others. Since that time, we have become a stronger and better university. We join other leaders in our state who are calling for a change in the state flag.”

For years Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University, "all historically black universities, have long not flown the flag," Royce Swayze reports for The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said it is unlikely the state flag will change, said in a statement "that publicly funded institutions should respect Mississippi law since it grants the state flag 'all the respect and ceremonious etiquette given the American flag,'" Swayze writes. "According to Section 37-13-13 of Mississippi law, the flag 'shall be displayed in close proximity to the school building at all times during the hours of daylight when the school is in session when the weather will permit without damage to the flag . . . It shall be the duty of the board of trustees of the school district to provide for the flags and their display.” But the law does not reference institutions of higher learning.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WHO says processed meats cause cancer, red meats probably do; reporters explain how

As expected, the World Health Organization today released a report saying "that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer and that red meat probably does, too," Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post. "The report by the influential group stakes out one of the most aggressive stances against meat yet taken by a major health organization, and it is expected to face stiff criticism in the U.S." (Sausage can cause cancer, says a WHO report)

What exactly is processed meat, and why does it cause cancer? "Processed meat has been modified to either extend its shelf life or change the taste, and the main methods are smoking, curing or adding salt or preservatives," James Gallagher and Helen Briggs report for BBC News. "Simply putting beef through a mincer does not mean the resulting mince is 'processed' unless it is modified further. Processed meat includes bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and ham as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces."

"Suspected carcinogenic chemicals can form during meat processing," Gallagher and Briggs write. "These include N-nitroso compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Cooking the meat at high temperatures, especially on a barbecue, can also produce these dangerous chemicals. However, the WHO's experts admit that the cancer risk is 'not yet fully understood.' Each 50g of processed meat per day—fewer than two slices of bacon—increased the risk of cancer by 18 percent. Each 100g of red meat per day increased the risk by 17 percent although the WHO admits there is limited evidence."

While the World Cancer Research Fund says to eat as little red meat as possible, 'meat is still a good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc," Gallagher and Briggs write. Frankie Phillips, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, told BBC, "The message is to still include red meat in the diet because it is a good source of key nutrients. The general message is it's OK to eat some red meat but perhaps to look at ways of increasing the amount of plant-based foods—in particular, pulses." (Read more)

Rural electric co-ops that lack funds to meet Clean Power Plan rules are at the mercy of state plans

Rural electric cooperatives are struggling to finance changes needed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules, putting many of the companies in danger of shuttering, Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post. At the request of the government, the businesses—mostly small nonprofit groups owned by the customers themselves—spent large sums of money in the 1970s to switch to coal-fired plants. Now that the government says to stop using coal, many of the co-ops say they are unable to afford to make upgrades or replacements to meet the new standards.

"The biggest utility companies are expected to meet the new standards with relative ease, in part by speeding up planned retirements of coal-fired plants and investing in natural gas and renewables, such as wind and solar energy But rural electric cooperatives have fewer options," Warrick writes. Smaller companies, such as Seminole Electric Cooperative in rural Putnam County, Florida, "rely on a single coal-burning plant for most of the electricity they provide. Seminole’s customers will be paying down the debt for the company’s existing generating plant until 2042, and officials with the nonprofit utility say they can’t afford to replace it."

"EPA officials acknowledge that the smallest electricity providers face a very different set of challenges compared with larger utilities," Warrick writes. "But they say the Clean Power Plan was designed to give states the flexibility to accommodate the concerns of smaller operators. Among the options available to states is the creation of cap-and-trade networks, which allow older power plants to stay in business by essentially buying pollution-cutting 'credits' from other utility companies that use wind and solar power."

"Separately, the Obama administration has offered loans to rural utilities to help pay for equipment upgrades that save energy," Warrick writes. "Outside experts who have studied the EPA’s regulations say small utilities could survive and even thrive under the new regulations but only if states take full advantage of the flexibility provisions. Some states—particularly those with Republican administrations—have shown little interest in developing the plans at all . . . Florida is among the 26 states that filed lawsuits Friday to block the regulations. States that refuse to come up with compliance plans could be subject to a default plan crafted by regulators in Washington, which could make the problems for rural cooperatives even worse, utilities officials say." (Read more)

States with high marriage rates are more prosperous, says study by conservative groups

States with higher rates of marriage are more likely to have stronger economic growth, economic mobility and mean family income and less child poverty and violent crime, says the report "Strong Families, Prosperous States," by conservative groups American Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Family Studies.

"When we compare states in the top quintile of married-parent families with those in the bottom quintile, we find that being in the top quintile is associated with a $1,451 higher per capita GDP, 10.5 percent greater upward income mobility for children from lower-income families, a 13.2 percent decline in the child poverty rate and a $3,654 higher median family income," states the American Enterprise Institute. The violent crime rate also decreases from 563 violent crimes per every 100,000 residents for states in the bottom quintile to 343 for every 100,000 residents for states in the top quintile. (The highest changes in the rate of married adults from 1977 to 2013 was in largely rural states, led by Kentucky, Iowa, West Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin)

The percent of married adults has dropped in every state since the 1970s, states the report. "Less-educated Americans have been hit especially hard by the retreat from marriage in part because structural changes in the economy have lessened the economic security of working-class and poor men. Their wages are lower than they were in the 1970s, and since that time, their economic fortunes have declined relative to those of the women in their lives. These changes have rendered many men in poor and working-class communities less 'marriageable,' both in their own eyes and in the eyes of potential partners. By contrast, college-educated Americans—who benefit from more stable employment, higher incomes and more financial assets, all stabilizing factors in marriage and family life—have seen their divorce risk fall markedly since the 1980s and enjoy comparatively high levels of marital and family stability."

"The extent of the decline of marriage also varies by race," states the report. "African Americans have been buffeted by an ongoing legacy of racial discrimination and comparatively high levels of segregation, both of which strain marriages and families. Marriage patterns among Latinos are closer to the national average, though Latinos have somewhat higher rates of nonmarital childbearing and single parenthood than average. These economic and racial realities have left poor, working-class and minority families particularly vulnerable to the nation’s retreat from marriage."

Americans who have no religious affiliation or only rarely attend religious services are less likely to get married and more likely to get divorced if they do marry, states the report. "Likewise, Americans who adopt a more individualistic (and less familistic) ethos are less likely to form and maintain a stable, married family. We know, for example, that women who are more accepting of single parenthood as adolescents are more likely to have a child outside of wedlock and that Americans with a more progressive outlook are markedly less likely to be married." (States with the lowest percentage of children with married parents are West Virginia, Rhode Island, Nevada, Indiana and Georgia)

Consumers are the rising voice in the agriculture antibiotic fight, states Washington Post editorial

"After decades of inaction, concern about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is finally gaining traction, not because of federal regulations or congressional legislation, but because smart people around the nation are listening to consumers and thinking creatively about new ways of doing things," states The Washington Post editorial board. "For decades, the agriculture industry has used antibiotics in feed and water to help farm animals grow faster and larger on the same amount of feed and to prevent disease in a whole flock or herd. It is entirely proper to give antibiotics to sick animals. But now there is real movement away from the practice of using them for growth promotion, and the wisdom of using the drugs for prevention is being questioned." (Graphic from the health and environmental report Chain Reaction)

The board cites two recent actions as showing a positive trend toward eliminating antibiotic use. The first is a law signed earlier this month by California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) that "will impose restrictions on the use of farm antibiotics starting in 2018," states the editorial. "The law says that antibiotics important in human medicine cannot be used for growth promotion in animals, and it gives veterinarians an important role in decisions about when to use them."

"The law permits the use of antibiotics for prevention when there is an 'elevated risk' of disease spreading, but it prohibits the use of these drugs 'in a regular pattern,'" states the editorial. "What’s impressive about the California example is that the law came about as a result of cooperation among representatives of public health, medicine, government, academia and agriculture. The law also includes civil penalties for violations. It will be important to see how food producers adapt; ideally they will create methods for animal husbandry without antibiotics that could be applied nationwide."

The second action was by Subway, which announced that beginning next year it will "start serving chicken and turkey raised without antibiotics in all of its 27,000-plus outlets in this country," states the editorial. "The company pledged to phase out antibiotic use in pork and beef within a decade. The company made no secret that it was responding to consumer desires, and it thus joins several other major food producers, including Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, in restricting antibiotic use. The market is speaking—and companies are listening." (Read more)

Cure to rural brain drain is sending more rural kids to college, promoting positives of rural areas

The main ways to eliminate rural brain drain—especially in the Midwest, Great Plains and South—is to send more rural high school students to college and find ways to make rural areas more attractive to college graduates, Christopher Chavis reports for the Bangor Daily News. A recent study published in the American Education Research Journal found that high achieving rural students actually want to return home but often choose metro areas because of the increased opportunities.

While loan forgiveness programs have been used to lure recent graduates to rural areas, a better strategy is for rural localities "to actively reach out to educated professionals by accentuating their positives," Chavis writes. "There is evidence to show that this is an effective strategy. An affordable cost of living and close knit and engaged communities are all hallmarks of rural living and are both great to emphasize."

"Also, if someone is into outdoor activities, there is no better place for that than Rural America," Chavis writes. "For example, I am a short drive away from the mountains and the many lakes that dot our landscape in Maine. Rural areas are also filled with history. After all, up until recently, most of our country’s inhabitants lived in rural areas. Much of our country’s history happened in Rural America. Our country is filled with small towns that can provide you with a better history lesson than most museums. For someone looking to start a family, they would also have the advantage of small class sizes, the ability to own a home at a much lower price, space for their children to run outside and play and relatively low crime."

Another method is to attract technology firms, encourage the growth of startups and increase telecommuting as broadband expands into rural areas, Chavis writes. Improving local education can also strengthen a rural area's draw. "If we can guarantee the same quality of education that children receive in other areas, the likelihood of attracting young professionals and their families will increase." (Read more) (Choices Magazine map)

Tyson Foods, nation's largest meatpacker by sales, to raise hourly wages for 34,000 workers

Tyson Foods, the largest meat company by sales, said it "plans to raise hourly wages for about 34,000 employees at its U.S. chicken plants, part of an effort to better attract and retain workers in a tightening labor market," Jacob Bunge reports for The Wall Street Journal. "Production, maintenance and refrigeration workers at more than 50 of Tyson’s facilities will see higher starting pay, and experienced workers will receive raises, Tyson said Friday."

Effective Nov. 1, Tyson "will boost starting pay for production workers at nearly 40 of its chicken plants to at least $10 an hour, an 11 percent to 25 percent increase over some current rates, according to the company," Bunge writes. "Increasing the starting rate and other increases will boost average hourly pay for workers who have held their positions for more than a year to more than $12 an hour, and maintenance and refrigeration workers at 51 chicken plants will receive pay increases of varying amounts, Tyson said."

Rural distillery in legal battle with university, which claims it owns the rights to word 'Kentucky'

A rural distillery in Eastern Kentucky has found itself in a legal battle with the University of Kentucky, which claims it owns the rights to the word "Kentucky" and wants Kentucky Mist Distillery to stop using the word on shirts promoting its business, Linda Blackford reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Kentucky Mist co-owner Colin Fultz said he received a letter from UK attorneys saying the university has trademarked 'Kentucky' since 1997. The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg first reported the story. The newspaper is behind a paywall. (UK lawyers claim this shirt could confuse people into thinking it was related to the university)

The UK letter states: "It is our present position that Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.'s use of the mark KENTUCKY MIST MOONSHINE to identify articles of clothing is likely to cause deception, confusion and mistake as to Kentucky Mist Moonshine Inc.'s affiliation, connection or association with the university." The letter goes on to state that UK will "consider further action as it deems necessary," Blackford writes.

Fultz told Blackford, "What they're saying is crazy; all I'm using is the name Kentucky. The only thing that we trademark was Kentucky Mist Moonshine . . . we just wanted to sell our own shirts."

Jason Schlafer, UK's director of trademark licensing, "said the problem is that Kentucky Mist Moonshine is trying to register with the Federal Trademark Registry in the same category, Class 25, in which UK is registered. This category includes shirts and sweatshirts." Schlafer told Blackford, "It is the obligation of a trademark owner to monitor the registry and ensure that marks that could dilute your registered mark don't register."

The Eagle reports that Kentucky Mist has acquired a Lexington-based attorney, James M. Francis. Francis said in a statement:
"Kentucky Mist Moonshine, Inc. is disappointed by the tactics employed by the University of Kentucky to claim the exclusive right to the word KENTUCKY. This represents a shameful overreach by the University and an assault on the rights of business owners across the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The action by the University is an attempt to exploit a trademark that should never have been registered by the US Patent and Trademark Office and is likely unenforceable or invalid. It is blatantly disingenuous to claim that there is a likelihood that consumers would be confused between the University of Kentucky and a small eastern Kentucky distillery and gift shop. While we hope to be able to resolve this amicably, Kentucky Mist Moonshine, Inc. is and remains a proud supporter of the University of Kentucky, it is prepared to vigorously defend its rights and the rights of all businesses, large and small, to use the name Kentucky to identify themselves, their products, their geographic location and their heritage."

U.S. future lies in strength of rural communities, Buffets say at Rural Futures Conference

The future of America "lies in the strength of its rural communities," Howard G. Buffett and Howard W. Buffett said on Wednesday during the Rural Futures Conference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Chris Dunker reports for the Lincoln Star Journal. "To kick off the fifth season of the Heuermann Lecture Series, which focuses on food, water and agriculture, the Buffetts said their philanthropic efforts around the world have highlighted the need to develop strong rural communities back home." (Associated Press photo: Howard G. Buffett)

"Howard G. Buffett, son of Omaha investor Warren Buffett, works through his foundation to solve problems related to hunger and security in areas of conflict," Dunker writes. "He said the challenges faced in rural communities will require long-term planning and implementation. His son, Howard W. Buffett, is a lecturer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Columbia University in New York in international and public affairs, philanthropy and food and agricultural policy." They co-wrote a book, “Finding Hope: Pioneering Your Own 40 Chances” that consists "of a series of vignettes about inspiring people who make a difference in the world and the processes of philanthropy in underdeveloped areas."

Howard "said the sense of community found in rural areas is universal—neighbors step up to help neighbors, community members lend a helping hand to others—and that creates a 'sense of family that necessarily doesn’t exist in a lot of urban neighborhoods,'" Dunker writes. “We spent countless numbers of days and hours with farmers all over the world learning about their challenges and their hopes,” Howard said. “The one thing that always seemed so interesting about coming back was really having that feeling or sense of community of being out in the agricultural operations.” He said "those traits will continue to make rural America stand out in the years to come."

Howard, who called the conference and others like it "probably the most important thing happening in America today," said, "We built this country from rural America up. If there’s one thing in America that I have watched for the last 30 years with a really disappointing view . . . we have allowed rural America to slip . . . The political game is stacked against us in many ways in Washington, so when I say this is one of the most important things happening in America, I’m serious. Rural America has to survive and stay strong, and it’s the people sitting in this room and coming to this conference who are going to do this. No one is going to do it for us.” (Read more)