Rural Renewal Monitor



Conservation Plus Agriculture Equals True Food Security

National Geographic | By Emile Frison , Cristián Samper and Ken Wilson | November 8, 2012

Farmers in the Luangwa Valley in Zambia grow vegetables with a rural development model linking agriculture and local markets to natural resource management. WCS's COMACO business model rewards farmers with increased commodity prices for adopting improved land management and farming practices that can sustain higher food crop yields while reducing potential conflicts with natural resources - Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

The Volcanica Central Talamanca Corridor in Costa Rica is one of several biological corridors in Central America created to ensure the movement of critically endangered species across the region. It was difficult to motivate struggling local farmers to support this effort based solely on conservation, but they depend on the land for many uses. Broadening the corridor effort beyond conservation to provide livelihood benefits and improved ecosystem services like clean water was the key to success.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that to feed the world’s growing population over the next 40 years we must find ways to increase food production by 60 percent. Most proposed solutions target demand alone by increasing crop yields. An alternative approach gaining increased attention recognizes the mutual dependency of agriculture and conservation. The results are promising – putting more food on more tables while bringing additional benefits to the environment and rural communities. Read more about Conservation Plus Agriculture Equals True Food Security

Livestock falling ill in fracking regions

Center for Investigative Reporting | By Elizabeth Royte | November 29, 2012

Healthy cattle roam on the Schilke ranch in North Dakota.
Credit: Courtesy of Jacki Schilke

In the midst of the domestic energy boom, livestock on farms near oil-and-gas drilling operations nationwide have been quietly falling sick and dying. While scientists have yet to isolate cause and effect, many suspect chemicals used in drilling and hydrofracking, or fracking, operations are poisoning animals through the air, water or soil.

Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, N.Y., veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.

The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed – either accidentally or incidentally – to fracking chemicals in the water or air. The article, published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years.

The death toll is insignificant when measured against the nation’s livestock population (some 97 million beef cattle go to market each year), but environmental advocates believe these animals constitute an early warning. Read more about Livestock falling ill in fracking regions

End of the Line for an Oyster Farm

The New York Times | By Felicity Barringer | November 29, 2012

Workers brought in one of their last hauls for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company at Point Reyes National Seashore. | By Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday ended a longstanding and bitter dispute that pitted wilderness advocates against supporters of a Northern California oyster farm, announcing that the farm’s lease from Point Reyes National Seashore would end on Friday as originally planned. An estuary known as Drakes Estero, where the oyster operation has existed for the last 40 years, will become a federally designated wilderness area.

In a statement, Mr. Salazar said, “We are taking the final step to recognize this pristine area as wilderness.” TheInterior Department has given the farm 90 days to fold. Read more about End of the Line for an Oyster Farm

Rural post offices prepare for reduction of hours

 KBIA, Mid-Missouri Public Radio | By Jennifer Davidson | November 28, 2012

The post office in Pomona, Missouri, is one of thousands across the US slated for reduced hours. | Credit Jennifer Davidson / KSMU

A tiny post office sits in Pomona, Mo. It’s a very small, white plaster concrete building with a flagpole to the side.

Pomona is in a rural area in south central Missouri.  This is one of the many post offices across the United States in an effort to save money by the US Postal Service.

“I think all of the smaller offices in this area—they’re all going to that, because, you know, there’s a lot of lag time,” says Anna Carnefix, the postmaster relief for the Pomona office.

And she’s right – scores of very small post offices in the rural Ozarks are reducing their hours.

Taneyville, Spokane, Niangua, Rockbridge, Walnut Grove, Washburn… the nationwidelist is about 4,000 offices long. But, Carnefix says, in the Pomona office, there will be little impact on customers.

“Nothing is changing as far as what they can expect out of the post office other than the hours,” she says.

The U.S. Postal Service originally floated the idea of closing thousands of rural post offices to save money. But rural America and its representatives in Congress roared back prompting the USPS to unveil this new savings plan in May. Now, it’s sending out surveys and holding community town halls to get feedback.  Read more about Rural post offices prepare for reduction of hours

Rural veterinarians on the decline in North Dakota

Grand Forks Herald | By Pamela Knudson | November 26, 2012

A shortage of food animal veterinarians in the U.S. is not expected to turn around anytime soon and could have implications for the quality of the nation’s food supply.

A shortage of food animal veterinarians in the U.S. is not expected to turn around anytime soon and could have implications for the quality of the nation’s food supply.

In areas where there are too few veterinarians overseeing the health of too much livestock, some veterinarians say, there’s an increased risk that animal diseases can spread.

Food animal vets do a lot more than treat sick farm animals. They’re on the front lines for catching disease and stopping it from spreading to other animals — and people — and are vital to food safety.

They also play a critical role in agricultural economics: Healthier livestock means more money for farmers. Read more about Rural veterinarians on the decline in North Dakota

Already Desperate, Haitian Farmers Are Left Hopeless After Storm

The New York Times | By Randal C. Archibold | November 17, 2012

Maurice Guillome replanted rice after flooding. | Photo by David Rochkind for The New York Times

FAUCHÉ, Haiti — A woman who lost just about everything now gives her children coffee for meals because it quiets their stomachs a bit. Another despondent mother relives the awful moment when her 18-month-old baby was swept from her arms by a flash flood. The bodies of a family of five killed in a mudslide still sit in a morgue unclaimed.

Haitians, who know well the death and despair natural disasters can cause, suffered mightily from Hurricane Sandy, which bashed the country’s rural areas and killed at least 54 people.

Three weeks after the hurricane’s deluge, Haiti, still struggling to recover from the earthquake in January 2010, is facing its biggest blow to reconstruction and slipping deeper into crisis, United Nations and government officials say, with hundreds of thousands of others at risk of hunger or malnutrition. Read more about Already Desperate, Haitian Farmers Are Left Hopeless After Storm

Farmworkers’ Endless Worry: Tainted Tap Water

The New York Times | By Patricia Leigh Brown | November 13, 2012

Fifth and sixth grade students in Seville, Calif., took a water break before physical education class. | Photo by Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SEVILLE, Calif. — Like most children, the students at Stone Corral Elementary School here rejoice when the bell rings for recess and delight in christening a classroom pet.

But while growing up in this impoverished agricultural community of numbered roads and lush citrus orchards, young people have learned a harsh life lesson: “No tomes el agua!” — “Don’t drink the water!”

Seville, with a population of about 300, is one of dozens of predominantly Latino unincorporated communities in the Central Valley plagued for decades by contaminated drinking water. It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative. Read more about Farmworkers’ Endless Worry: Tainted Tap Water

Rural sourcing, technology provides competitive edge for Minn. manufacturer

Prairie Business, prairiebizmag.com | November 7, 2012 | By Tom Cherveny, Forum Communications

Steve Banks, right, of Marr Valve, explains how the component parts of a device produced by the company are assembled to Montevideo High School instructor Brian Albers. Banks started his manufacturing career in the Twin Cities, but a desire to raise his children in a rural setting led him to Marr Valve. The company relies on a skilled, rural workforce to operate high-tech equipment to produce valves, regulators and other components for the equipment found in modern dental offices and medical settings. | Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — While many American manufacturers outsourced their work to low wage, overseas locations, Marr Valve Co. in Granite Falls, Minn., has succeeded by keeping it rural.

By doing so, the company kept its wages, workers and its customers.

Wages range from $18 to $30 an hour, and most of the company’s 20 employees have stayed with it for anywhere from 10 to 28 years.

They’ve seen annual, 2 and 3 percent wage increases in the last decade, with the exception of the 2008, when the recession hit.

The recession, however, has passed Marr Valve, Cheryl Monson, operations manager, said as she hosted visitors for a manufacturing tour last month of the 24,000-square-foot facility on the east side of Granite Falls. Business has rebounded to pre-2008 levels, and the company is growing its overseas and domestic markets. Read more about Rural sourcing, technology provides competitive edge for Minn. manufacturer

Farms Awash in Peanuts

The Wall-Street Journal | By Paul Ziobro | October 18, 2012 

After Shortage Sent Peanut-Butter Prices Soaring, Record Crop Should Ease Cost

Mr. Self, holding his crop, planted nothing but peanuts this year as contract prices climbed. | Lance Murphey for The Wall Street Journal

Peanut-butter hoarders can relax.

U.S. peanut farmers are harvesting a record crop this year, putting to rest fears of repeating the shortage that drove up prices over the past year and prompted some shoppers to load up their pantries with the spread.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week raised its estimate for the 2012 peanut harvest to 6.1 billion pounds, blowing through the 2008 record of almost 5.2 billion pounds.

The increase is driving down peanut prices by more than 50% from highs hit in the spring, say peanut brokers, farmers and buyers, providing relief to peanut-butter makers that could translate into lower prices on store shelves in coming months.

Experts say three things have turned around the peanut market. With sky-high prices being offered due to depleted supplies, farmers planted almost 44% more acres of peanuts this year than in 2011, according to the USDA. Peanut-growing regions in the Southeast and Texas also saw favorable weather including sufficient rain, dodging the drought that scorched the wheat and corn crops in the Midwest.

On top of that, farmers for the most part used peanut seeds that are more disease-resistant, yielding a record number of peanuts per acre and a better-quality crop with more peanuts that can be used in peanut butter rather than be processed for oil. Read more about Farms Awash in Peanuts

Farmers Find Path Out of Hardship in Corn Mazes

The New York Times | By Kim Severson | October 29, 2012

MILTON, Tenn. — Over the course of a month, Stan Vaught’s two sons will make more money letting people walk through a maze carved from 10 acres of corn than he will raising cattle and soybeans on the other 190 acres of his family’s farmland.

All across the country, small farmers have figured out the same formula. The hundreds of corn mazes that rise up each autumn can be more lucrative than agriculture itself.

Others played on hay bales. | Photo from Jabin Botsford for The New York Times

“For a lot of people who have these farms with a few hundred acres, it’s an opportunity to make a living and not have to get rid of the farm or not be able to keep it up,” said Mr. Vaught, whose land on a former Civil War battle site in central Tennessee has been in his family for seven generations.

Corn mazes have gotten so popular in the past decade that those who engage in the craft hold annual conventions. Mazes are tricked out with zip lines, live zombie scarecrows and corn cannons, which can shoot an ear of corn across a field. People buy tickets online or pay on hand-held devices, sometimes handing over $20 or more to enjoy a range of countrified entertainment. Read more about Farmers Find Path Out of Hardship in Corn Mazes

Silos Loom as Death Traps on American Farms

The New York Times | By John M. Broder | October 28, 2012

STERLING, Mich. — Tommy Osier, 18, a popular but indifferent student, was still a year from graduating from high school, and that was no sure thing. Farm work paid him $7.40 an hour, taught him discipline and gave him new skills. He had begun talking about making a life in farming.

But he hated the chore he drew on Memorial Day of last year, working inside the silo at Pine Grove Farm. The corn was damp and crusted. It tended to hang up on the sides of the old six-story cement bin and had to be busted up with a steel rod before it would cascade to the bottom to be shoveled out.

That morning, just after 9, the phone rang in the Osier home. “Tommy’s in the silo,” his sister relayed to their mother, Linda, unsure of what it meant.

Ms. Osier grew up on a hog farm and knew right away. “He’s dead,” she said, slumping to the floor. “Tommy’s dead.”

Even as the rate of serious injury and fatalities on American farms has fallen, the number of workers dying by entrapment in grain bins and silos has remained stubbornly steady. The annual number of such accidents rose throughout the past decade, reaching a peak of at least 26 deaths in 2010, before dropping somewhat since. Read more about Silos Loom as Death Traps on American Farms

A Simple Fix for Farming

The New York Times | By Mark Bittman | October 19, 2012

IT'S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I'm not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use - if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study's sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

Lincoln Farm land was at center of anti-corporate farming initiative

Omaha World-Herald | By David Hendee | October 28, 2012

Water from 115 shut-down center pivots will be redirected to boost the Republican and Platte Rivers.

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — As a young man four decades ago, Lynn Frederick saddled a horse and helped a neighbor round up cattle on rangeland each fall.

The broad, grassy divide between the South Platte River and Medicine Creek was sandy and dry. It mostly was cattle country, not farmland.

Frederick remembers a hill so steep that a four-wheel-drive pickup failed to top the summit.

Then the pivots came, and everything changed.

Within a decade, the cattleman neighbor and the grassland were gone. In their place were Prudential Insurance Co. and 66 center-pivot irrigation systems watering circular fields of corn.

Now the pivots have irrigated their last crops and this patch of prairie is about to come full circle. Read more about Lincoln Farm land was at center of anti-corporate farming initiative

Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring

The New York Times | By Ron Nixon and John Eligon | October 22, 2012

Jason Smith, an auctioneer, stood on land he sold near Minburn, Iowa, for $10,500 an acre.
Photo By Brian Lehmann for The New York Times

EAGLE GROVE, Iowa — After initially trickling in slower than the auctioneer’s babble, the bids began picking up.

“Get your hands up,” belted Marv Huntrods, the auctioneer, his baritone echoing from a raspy speaker in a plaid-carpeted Masonic lodge here last week. He chopped the air with one hand and drew out his vowels.

“Grains up overnight.” “It’s only money.” “Just tell me, yes or yes.” “Last chance.”

After about 15 minutes and a starting bid of $6,000 per acre, Mr. Huntrods, an agent with Hertz Farm Management, ended up with more than he had expected. A former John Deere dealer bought the 80-acre farm plot at a stunning price of $10,600 per acre. Mr. Huntrods had thought it would fetch less than $9,500 per acre.

Across the nation’s Corn Belt, even as the worst drought in more than 50 years has destroyed what was expected to be a record corn crop and reduced yields to their lowest level in 17 years, farmland prices have continued to rise. From Nebraska to Illinois, farmers seeking more land to plant and outside investors looking for a better long-term investment than stocks and bonds continue to buy farmland, taking advantage of low interest rates. Read more about Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring

Rural America Scores Federal Backing For Grid Modernization

Renew Grid Magazine | By Joseph Bebon | October 17, 2012

Grid modernization in rural America got a huge financial boost last week, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $1.95 billion in new loan guarantees for rural utilities and cooperatives. According to the USDA, its Rural Utilities Service provided the funding in an effort to help update and improve the efficiency of electric generation and transmission systems. Read more about Rural America Scores Federal Backing For Grid Modernization

Drought Leaves Cracks in Way of Life

The New York Times | By John Eligon | October 3, 2012

For Wayne Boschert and his wife, the drought has meant no room for luxury. They have canceled the trip to St. Martin that they take every January. | Dilip Vishwanat for The New York Times

BUTLER, Mo. — They have canceled vacations. Their children are forgoing out-of-state colleges for cheaper ones close to home. They are delaying doctor’s visits, selling off land handed down through generations and resisting luxuries like new smartphones.

And then there is the stress — sleepless nights, grumpiness and, in one extreme case, seizures.

Lost amid the withered crops, dehydrated cattle and depleted ponds that have come to symbolize the country’s most widespread drought in decades has been the toll on families whose livelihoods depend on farming.

Although most are not in danger of losing their homes or going hungry, the drought is threatening the way of life in rural America.

“You probably can’t print our mood,” said Dallis Basel, a sheep rancher in western South Dakota who sold off half of his herd because of the high feed prices caused by the drought. “It’s been kind of depressed. Like the wife says, she can’t drink enough to dull the pain of selling all the sheep.” Read more about Drought Leaves Cracks in Way of Life

University of Nebraska launches Rural Futures Institute

Midwest Producer | October 2, 2012

COLUMBUS, Neb. - Partnering with rural communities to help them meet their economic and social challenges is a natural mission for land-grant universities in the 21st century, the president of the University of Nebraska said Sept. 27.

James B. Milliken made his comments in Columbus as the university formally launched the Rural Futures Institute, an NU-wide institute that will tap faculty expertise across all four NU campuses for research, education and engagement involving partner organizations and rural communities across the Great Plains. Read more about University of Nebraska launches Rural Futures Institute

After Graduating From College, It’s Time to Plow, Plant and Harvest

The New York Times | By Natalie Kitroeff | September 24, 2012

As the number of farms in the country increases, some college graduates, like Jordan Schmidt, 27, are taking to agriculture, learning from experience as they go. | Photo by Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
 

RED HOOK, N.Y. — It was harvest time, and several farm hands were hunched over a bed of sweet potatoes under the midday sun, elbow deep in soil for $10 an hour. But they were not typical laborers.

Jeff Arnold, 28, who has learned how to expertly maneuver a tractor, graduated from Colorado State University. Abe Bobman, 24, who studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, was clearing vines alongside Nate Krauss-Malett, 25, who went to Skidmore College.

Mr. Krauss-Malett said he became interested in farming after working in a restaurant and seeing how much food was wasted. Mr. Bobman had the same realization working in the produce section at a grocery store before college.

They had been in the fields here at Hearty Roots Community Farm in the Hudson Valley since 7 a.m. They all said they could not imagine doing any other job. Read more about After Graduating From College, It’s Time to Plow, Plant and Harvest

Aging America: Boomers retiring to rural areas will have hard time finding a family doctor

The Washington Post | By Associated Press | September 1, 2012

Washington PostGRANTS PASS, Ore. — Nina Musselman had no trouble finding a family doctor when she retired to rural Oregon nine years ago to be closer to her children. But then that doctor moved away, leaving her to search for another who would take Medicare.

After a year of going from doctor to doctor, she finally found one who stuck.

As record numbers of baby boomers go into retirement, many are thinking about moving from the places they needed to live to make a living, and going someplace warmer, quieter or prettier.

If they choose small towns like Grants Pass, 250 miles south of Portland, they could well have a hard time finding a family doctor willing to take Medicare, even supplemental plans, rather than private insurance. Read more about Aging America: Boomers retiring to rural areas will have hard time finding a family doctor

Rural Firefighting Forces Harder To Maintain

KUOW.org | By Jessica Robinson | August 24, 2012

NEWPORT, Wash. - When a wildfire breaks out in rural parts of the Northwest, the first people on the scene are often volunteer firefighters. Much of the region relies on these unpaid first responders who have day jobs of their own. But changes in rural America are conspiring to make volunteer forces harder to maintain. And that could make it more difficult for communities to respond to emergencies like wildfire.

Alex Arnold doesn’t usually try to make his pager go off. It does it all by itself a couple times a day.

It’s the sound that rouses him out of bed and makes him leave parties early -- and takes him to scenes like this one.

This is not a real accident. But it looks a lot like one. Volunteer firefighters in Pend Oreille County, Wash., along the border with Idaho, are practicing using the jaws of life to extricate fake victims from an old Ford Thunderbird.

In rural areas, Arnold says volunteer fire departments have to be as well-trained at saving lives as the career guys. Read more about Rural Firefighting Forces Harder To Maintain

Why Do Taxpayers Subsidize Farmers' Insurance?

Planet Money blog, NPR.org | By Chana Joffe-Walt | August 23, 2012

Three generations of the Traub family are farmers.

Chana Joffe-Walt/NPR

Three generations of the Traub family are farmers.

This summer's drought has hit more than half the states in the country. Crops are suffering, but farmers might not be. Most farmers have crop insurance.

U.S. taxpayers spend about $7 billion a year on crop insurance. It's our largest farm subsidy.

And this subsidy goes in part to farmers — who will tell you themselves they aren't so sure about the whole idea. "I have an aversion to it," says Jim Traub, a corn and bean farmer in Fairbury, Illinois. "But you're not going to turn it down." Read more about Why Do Taxpayers Subsidize Farmers' Insurance?

American Lung Association Report Aims to Reduce Tobacco Use in Rural Communities

The Sacramento Bee | By the American Lung Association | August 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2012 -- /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Lung Association's latest health disparity report, "Cutting Tobacco's Rural Roots:  Tobacco Use in Rural Communities," examines the prevalence of tobacco addiction and exposure to secondhand smoke in rural America, particularly among rural youth.

Tobacco use is higher in rural communities than in suburban and urban communities, and smokeless tobacco use is shockingly twice as common.  Rural youth are more likely to use tobacco and to start earlier than urban youth, perpetuating the cycle of tobacco addiction and death and disease. Read more about American Lung Association Report Aims to Reduce Tobacco Use in Rural Communities

Horses Fall Victim to Hard Times and Dry Times on the Range

The New York Times | By Fernanda Santos | August 18, 2012


Mark Holm for The New York Times
A recent roundup of stray horses west of Window Rock, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation.

AZTEC, N.M. — The land is parched, the fields are withering and thousands of the nation’s horses are being left to fend for themselves on the dried range, abandoned by people who can no longer afford to feed them.

They have been dropping dead in the Navajo reservation in the Southwest, where neighbors are battling neighbors and livestock for water, an inherently scant resource on tribal land. They have been found stumbling through state parks in Missouri, in backyards and along country roads in Illinois, and among ranch herds in Texas where they do not belong.

Some are taken to rescue farms or foster homes — lifelines that are also buckling under the pressure of the nation’s worst drought in half a century, which has pushed the price of grain and hay needed to feed the animals beyond the reach of many families already struggling in the tight economy. Read more about Horses Fall Victim to Hard Times and Dry Times on the Range

Maine Lobstermen Give Farming Sea Scallops A Try

NPR.org, Weekend Edition Sunday | By Chris Arnold | August 12, 2012

As lobster prices plunge, scallops offer fishermen an alternative to make money.
 Levi Bridges for NPR

As lobster prices plunge, scallops offer fishermen an alternative to make money.

If you don't love scallops, you probably just haven't had one that's cooked properly. That is, pan fried with some garlic and butter and herbs. They are very tasty.

But like a lot of other seafood in many places, sea scallops have been overfished. In Maine, scientists and fishermen are learning how to farm, instead of catching, more types of sea critters.

Out on the water off Stonington, Marsden Brewer is motoring his lobster boat through the crowded fishing harbor. Today, just about all the boats here are lobster boats. But 30 years ago, he says, it was a different story.

"You see all the boats and stuff? Come Nov. 1, most of them would all be rigged up for scalloping. There was that many scallops in [the] shore here," Brewer says. "Now there's maybe four boats that go."

Brewer says there just aren't as many scallops to catch these days in this area. Read more about Maine Lobstermen Give Farming Sea Scallops A Try

Some Idaho Farmers Pray, Others Turn On The Water

NPR.org, Weekend Edition Saturday | By Molly Messick | August 11, 2012

Farmer Hans Hayden walks through his drought-stricken wheat field in Idaho. He says the wheat should be 3 feet tall by now.
Molly Messick for NPR

Farmer Hans Hayden walks through his drought-stricken wheat field in Idaho. He says the wheat should be 3 feet tall by now.

In the West, in Idaho's arid, high desert, the drought has a mixed effect. There's a big divide between farmers with deep wells and irrigation and those without.

Hans Hayden is a rare find: a talkative farmer. He likes to explain things. But when it comes to the wheat he planted this spring, there's not much to say. This field needed rain. It didn't get it.

"At this point in time, it kind of looks like a desert," he says.

In a good year, Hayden's spring wheat would be nearly 3 feet high by now. The top of each stalk — the head — would be heavy with grain. He steps on stunted rows and kicks up dust.

"These heads really have very few kernels in them, if they even are here," Hayden says.

He breaks off a head and rolls it in his hand, literally separating wheat from chaff. But he doesn't find a single seed.

"See, there's none in that one, and there should have been 26 to 45 in that head," he says.

Hayden has 1,400 acres of drought-withered wheat. He's calling it an almost total loss. Read more about Some Idaho Farmers Pray, Others Turn On The Water

U.S. gets more from rural America than just our farm products

FarmAndDairy.com | By Susan Crowell | August 10, 2012

Back in 1988, then-Farm and Dairy Editor Rick Swart showed me this little vial of white powder.

When I asked what it was, he told me it was the “guts” of a diaper, the absorbent stuff that every parent hopes does its job.

And, he added with a flourish, it’s made out of corn.

Swart left the paper shortly after that, but the little jar remained — and so did my fascination for new uses of agricultural products.

Ohio has been a national leader in the development of these new uses, and the state’s corn and soybean associations (and their farmer board members) were early to recognize the potential markets outside of using corn and beans as livestock feed. They continue to pour checkoff and other dollars into research that has led to such developments as soy ink (now a staple), soy toner cartridges, and corn-based biodegradable utensils.

There’s farm material in carpets, plywood, concrete sealer, the foam in automobiles, industrial coatings, adhesives, lubricants, and, of course, fuel. Last year, PepsiCo unveiled a new bottle that was made entirely of plant material (switchgrass, pine bark and corn husks, among other things). Read more about U.S. gets more from rural America than just our farm products

USDA Backs Smart Grid Efforts In Rural America

RenewGridMag.com | By Renew Grid | August 10, 2012

To further improvements to electric lines and transmission and reduce peak electric loads by deploying smart grid technologies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack has issued loan guarantees to rural electric utilities across the country.

USDA Rural Utilities Administrator Jonathan Adelstein, on behalf of Vilsack, made the announcement while visiting the offices of Crewe, Va.-based Southside Electric Cooperative (SEC), one of the recipients. The cooperative is using funds to build and improve a distribution line and transmission line, and will invest almost $7.4 million for smart grid system enhancements. In all, the USDA says service will be upgraded for about 1,500 SEC members.

"Maintaining and upgrading rural electric systems improves system reliability, creates jobs and supports economic development," says Vilsack. "With these loans, we are continuing to help cooperatives provide reliable service to rural residents. A significant portion of this funding will go to smart grid technologies, helping consumers lower their electric bills and reducing peak demand for producers." Read more about USDA Backs Smart Grid Efforts In Rural America

FCC changes threaten rural access to Internet

Houston Chronicle, chron.com | By Byron Dorgan | August 7, 2012

What do border security efforts in Texas, health care in Kansas and economic development on an Indian reservation in New Mexico have in common?

All three rely on high-speed Internet services provided by small, independent rural telecommunications companies. And the success of all three will depend on the Federal Communications Commission making the right decisions in Washington.

Last year, the FCC began to reform the Universal Service Fund. That's the fund that makes sure even rural and high-cost areas of the country get affordable telecommunications services. Read more about FCC changes threaten rural access to Internet

Residents of LaCrosse, Wash., work to revitalize town

The Spokesman-Review, Wash. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services | By John Stucke | July 15, 2012

LACROSSE, Wash. -- Small towns in Eastern Washington were in the spotlight last year after U.S. Census Bureau figures confirmed the raw truth of what's happening across much of rural America: People are leaving for cities. LaCrosse, for example, once had a population of 1,000; today it's about 310. That decline comes with a list of "no's," as in no grocery; no doctor; no jobs.

Abandoned houses and buildings dot LaCrosse, and the streets are so empty that some of the remaining residents buzz around in electric golf carts.

But a group of townsfolk in this southwest Whitman County community have decided that LaCrosse and its legacy are worth saving.

"This is not an impossible situation, but a situation full of possibility," said Randy Myklebust, a wheat farmer who recently bought and is restoring one of the community's older homes.

Myklebust joined a handful of others to create LaCrosse Community Pride, a nonprofit organization determined to turn back the troubling trends and perhaps serve as a template for other ailing small towns. Read more about Residents of LaCrosse, Wash., work to revitalize town

Will This Student Loan Repayment Program Save A Large Slice Of Rural America?

International Business Times | By Benjamin Reeves | July 14, 2012

(Photo: Lee Waldron)

Sara Jo and Lee Waldron with Lydia Jane, 1, in front of their house in Hillsboro, Kan. The Waldrons moved to Hillsboro in part because of the state's Rural Opportunity Zones student-loan repayment program.

Last spring, Lee Waldron got a call from his mother-in-law, saying, "You've got to look into this Rural Opportunity Zone thing."

At the time, Waldron was living in Reedley, Calif., about 100 miles north of Bakersfield, with his wife Sara Jo and 1-year-old daughter Lydia Jane. Waldron was saddled with $30,000 in student-loan debt from his four years at Tabor College, a Christian school in Hillsboro, Kan. Given his income and the obligation to pay the minimum amount due each month on his student loan, it seemed inconceivable he would ever be able to afford to buy a home.

But the Rural Opportunity Zones program offered a way out. Under this plan in 50 rural Kansas counties, the state repays student loans over five years for people who move into these areas. The maximum benefit during that time is $15,000, so Waldron would still be responsible for one-half of his debt -- but that was much more manageable. “It was a weight off my mind,” he said.

The burden got even lighter when Waldron was able to secure a job as Tabor's director of enrollment operations. Now, he and his family have moved to Hillsboro and bought a home. His wife’s family lives nearby, and the pace of the community -- with its tiny main street, four restaurants (only one serving liquor), and 10 churches -- suits the Waldrons better than that of the West Coast.

"It's not a smoke and gun show like where I come from in California,” Waldron said. “It's small, it's friendly, it's slow, it's great to raise a family in."

There are a variety of student-loan repayment plans offered by the military to attract enlistees and by some small towns to lure health-care workers, but the Kansas program is one of the few broad-based efforts to repopulate and revive communities that are in economic decline and thus unable to entice educated people to reside in them. Read more about Will This Student Loan Repayment Program Save A Large Slice Of Rural America?

Bringing Youth Back To The Land By Making Farming Cool

Agriculture is a key part of the future of Africa’s economy. But--no surprise--young Africans aren’t so interested in a farming lifestyle. These projects are trying to grow some green thumbs.

Fast Company | By Ben Schiller | July 2012

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the world needs to open up 6 million hectares of land every year for the next 30 years if it is to meet expected food demand. And Africa holds 60% of the available land.

Agriculture is also key to Africa’a development prospects, already accounting for 40% of GDP output. But here’s the thing: the average age of an African farmer is 60, and counting. The continent is in danger of failing to meet its agricultural potential, if it doesn’t get younger people involved.

With this, and other challenges, in mind, the Rockefeller Foundation recently organized a contest to find the best ideas to bring young people back to the land. "We’ve got to attract more people, particularly small shareholders into farming," says Michael Myers, director of the foundation’s Centennial Initiative, which it is organizing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Read more about Bringing Youth Back To The Land By Making Farming Cool

A Bison So Rare It’s Sacred

The New York Times | By By Peter Applebome | July 12, 2012

Douglas Healey for The New York Times
A white bison at the farm of Peter Fay in Goshen, Conn. The birth of the bull calf a month ago drew attention from some as an auspicious event.

GOSHEN, Conn. — If one were asked to pick a typical home where the buffalo roam, the answer probably would not be Litchfield County amid the rolling hills and understated rural chic of Northwest Connecticut.

But when Bison No. 7 on Peter Fay’s farm gave birth to a white, 30-pound bull calf a month ago, it made the Fay farm below Mohawk Mountain, for the moment at least, the unlikely epicenter of the bison universe.

For Mr. Fay, what happened was an astoundingly unexpected oddity — white bison are so rare that each birth is viewed as akin to a historic event. Read more about A Bison So Rare It’s Sacred

U.S. Pig And Cattle Producers Trying To Crush Egg Bill

NPR.org, The Salt Food Blog | By Dan Charles | July 11, 2012

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Egg producers and the Human Society agree on a bill to require larger chicken cages, but the pork and beef industries fear they're next and are fighting it.

Remember our reports a few months ago on the odd couple who struck an innovative compromise between egg producers and animal welfare activists? (Here's a hint: The deal calls for egg producers to replace their standard cages with new "enriched" accommodations, complete with perches and nest boxes where chickens can lay their eggs.)

Well, that deal seems to be in trouble. It's running into a fierce counterattack from America's hog and beef producers — even though those industries aren't mentioned in the proposed deal, and aren't directly affected by it.

The deal has a crucial weakness: It only takes effect if Congress writes the new compromise standards for chicken housing into law. The United Egg Producers (UEP), which represents most of the country's egg production, says that's necessary. If the standards are voluntary, says the UEP, any farmer who ignores them and sticks with old-style cramped cages will be able to sell eggs more cheaply and put his competitors out of business. Read more about U.S. Pig And Cattle Producers Trying To Crush Egg Bill

Iconic big, red barn's influence on rural America shrinking

Sioux City Journal | By Nick Hytrek, nhytrek@siouxcityjournal.com | June 30, 2012

Lowell and Judy Vos stand outside the restored barn at their rural Kingsley, Iowa, home. Barns like those on the Vos farm are becoming rarer as modern agriculture makes them obsolete. Journal photo by Laura Wehde. Photo by Laura Wehde.

KINGSLEY, Iowa | Lowell Vos stares up at the rafters, where barn swallows chirp and dart about their nests.

It's a long way up there from where he's standing, 80 feet from the lowest point. He points out 40-foot-long two-by-fours used in the roof. How the builders put this old barn together decades ago with dowel pins amazes Vos.

"As you can tell, it's standing nice and straight. They were craftsmen," Vos said. "You don't see too many like this anymore."

No, you don't.

Standing amid the lush, green corn and soybean fields along Plymouth County Road K49, Lowell and Judy Vos' big, red barn quickly catches your attention once you crest the hill just south of their place.

It stands out not only because of its size, but because of its increasing rarity. As farming has changed, so have farmers' storage needs for equipment, crops and livestock. Everything has gotten bigger. So much so that the big, red barn has become too small. Read more about Iconic big, red barn's influence on rural America shrinking

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