Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Non-Typical Daily Roundup

I enjoy browsing through the miscellaneous links that are presented here via the daily roundup. I was shying away from volunteering to roundup any rural related reports (say that three times) because I feel that I am the most ill-qualified contributor to RR (refer to my Country Mouse/City Mouse post).

However, this morning while flipping through the channels, I came across Ann Curry from the Today show interviewing a woman. The way they were talking, I assumed that this woman had lost her job because of the economy and they were going to discuss steps she was taking to get her career back. A few seconds later, I realized that they were talking again about Lindsay Lohan. Gag! They went on and on (and on) about how poor Lindsay is trying to regain her Hollywood cred as an actress. I flipped away quickly, but then a thought entered my mind (right after “Who cares about a spoiled rotten little Hollywood starlet who can’t handle the demands of being famous?”).

My thought was: Does Hollywood affect agriculture? I think that it’s pretty obvious the reverse is true: Agriculture affects Hollywood. We saw that when even the movie industry took a hit during the food crisis in ’07 because people were choosing to eat versus going to the movies. That hit was temporary and really wasn’t felt so much by such an opulent industry, but the realism of the hit had many producers a little antsy. Also, Hollywood always likes to use rural living (or any other topic) to sell movies (Field of Dreams is a favorite of mine) So, like any other curious person, I googled 'Hollywood's affect on agriculture'. Boy oh boy! Hollywood is OBSESSED with saving the planet, which I think is an interest of farmers as well since it is their livelihood. Thus, my curiosity birthed a non-typical Daily Roundup.

I came across an article written recently mostly about climate change worldwide. But what caught my attention mostly was its finger-pointing at the green house effect. Thanks, Al Gore, for hyping up the warming climate. Hollywood not only affected agriculture by this non-scientifically backed claim, but also changed the world. This article led me to surf for about an hour finding other articles.

The “I can’t believe they actually have a website for this” award of the day went to Grinning Planet where they are apparently saving the planet one joke at a time. Their list of environmental movies got my attention. The most interesting movie that I’d like to see is a 2008 documentary called “A Farm for the Future” that was presented on BBC regarding the belief that oil is at its peak and then explores solutions for “fuel/farming/food” issues. However, my favorite movie title was “Shooting Vegetarians”. I would never endorse such an action and since this is a tree-hugger website, I imagine this is not a comedy, but the title made me laugh nonetheless.

Then, I stumbled across a blog called ribbonfarm.com. According to the site, “The name ribbonfarm refers to the ribbon farms of 18th century Detroit — strips of lands 2-3 miles long, each with 2-300 yards along the Detroit river waterfront — that the then governor invented to resolve water disputes. I (the blogger) thought it was a great metaphor for a blog trying to get its thin slice of attention from the great river of eyeballs that is the Web.” I read a particular two month old blog that I thought would be of interest to some RR readers regarding his view of how globalization cannot replace the cultures and subcultures we currently have. It’s a little long-winded (no, I didn’t write it-haha), but it had some interesting points. My favorite point was the thought that we can’t really claim ourselves as global citizens. We are unique in the relationships we form and the geographical location. I laughed at one comment to the blog (from a Latte-drinker in DC) where they said they were disappointed in the realization that they had more in common with a card-carrying NRA member in Oklahoma than they did with a Latte-drinker in Paris, even though they wished the opposite were true. That comment is kind of profound when you think about all the hulabalu of people wanting all red states to succeed from the nation and form their own country.

Finally, not to disappoint, I’d like to leave you with a link to a hot topic in RR: WATER! I was taught at such an early age that water is such a precious commodity, but also one we don’t often think about. However, there are people who are. This link shows a recent small breakthrough in water conservation. I love it when people use technology and find small, but simple and inexpensive ways to work towards accomplishing a goal!

So, in conclusion, Hollywood changed farming, extreme environmentalists like wacky movies, there is hope for the fellow man as long as he's your neighbor, and a cell phone app is going to solve the water crisis. Okay, maybe not, but read and decide for yourself.

Happy reading!

Tuesday Roundup

Happy Tuesday, everyone!  We've scoured the interwebs for some of the latest in news affecting agriculture and rural communities today.  So let's get started. 

First, a mandatory story about the salmonella outbreak and resulting egg recalls.  It turns out that the FDA investigated the farms in question after the outbreak, and found a whole slew of violations, including rodents near feed grain, flies and larval flies (maggots).  Who would have guessed those would have been found on a farm?  In all seriousness, there were likely some serious violations, particularly in sanitation practices.  But I think the media's going to blow this just a little out of proportion for a population that is shocked to find that mice like to eat grain and flies come from maggots. 

At a dual press conference in Wichita and Little Rock, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials touted a plan to improve the nation's transportation and freight capacity, focusing on rural roads and intercity freight.  From the Houston Chronicle story:
60 million people who live in rural America equal the population of the nation's largest 100 cities.
"Too often what we found, the needs of rural America ... are not understood," [AASHTO Director John] Horsley said.
The report notes that 66 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 or more do not have direct access to interstate highways. The list includes Jefferson City, Mo., which is a state capitol. In Arkansas, Hot Springs and Jonesboro are on the list, although the state has the 12th largest highway system in the U.S., Arkansas highways director Dan Flowers said.
California has 19 cities on the list, Texas has seven and Georgia and Wisconsin have three each. No other state has more than two.
Many two-lane rural roads were constructed decades ago and don't have shoulders or emergency lanes. Three times as many fatal crashes occur in rural areas as in cities, so upgrades can be justified on the basis of safety alone, the association said.
Certainly, improvements can be made in much of rural infrastructure.  The difficulty of getting crops to market in a timely manner, and fighting with road and rail freight over the costs of doing so, has long been a major issue to farmers.  You can read the whole AASHTO proposal here

An aid package from Washington, DC directed to farmers in embattled Senator Blanche Lincoln's state of Arkansas might arrive behind schedule, according to Arkansasbusiness.com. You may or may not insert your own cynical comments regarding government largess appearing a couple months before a close election here.

On the international front, Voice of America news has a story about efforts to improve access to latrines in rural Cambodia.  Such forms of sanitation, that we often take for granted, could be had relatively cheaply and make huge strides in the health and indeed the economy of poor countries around the world.  This story is about latrines, but beneath it, it's always about access to clean water.  As Nick noted last week, water's for fighting over, and there's a reason for that. 


No word on whether or not the landowner was out hunting when it was found, but the AP reports a farm in North Carolina recently uncovered a 65-carat emerald. Where would you move if you made such a discovery?  Beverly?  (Hills, that is)  Would you stay right where you were and keep digging?  Would you have some other plan? Let us know in the comments, and have a great day!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Roundup

Happy Monday y'all! Here's the Monday open thread.

It looks as though the HBO movie "Temple Grandin" had a great night at the Emmy's. This wonderful biopic about the life of Temple Grandin illustrates her life growing up with autism and overcoming tremendous odds. Thanks to a mother who refused to give up and a teacher taking her under his wing, Temple has earned a doctorate in Animal Sciences and made tremendous contributions to the humane handling of livestock. And, I couldn't be more proud to have her working for my alma mater, Colorado State.

Food for thought: Artificial Meat? This is what some scientist are saying will be needed to support the earth's ever growing population. Even so, the Malthusian Theory has been in existence since 1798 and agriculturalist have always risen to meet the challenge. Will we be able to this time?

A member of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a domestic terrorist group that uses violence to achieve an animal rights agenda, is set to go to court.

The Health and Human Services announced $32 million for rural healthcare to increase access to healthcare.

This just in: Producers believe that genetic modification will be the top technology needed to feed the world.

Have a wonderful Monday and a wonderful week! Cheers!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Good morning, good morning, good morning! It is Saturday!

The big news story of the weekend, Hurricane Katrina's 5th anniversary. It's hard to imagine the devastation and even something else to witness it first hand. What I would like you to think about while you read the article is this, "how would a rural community react to this tragedy versus what we saw, and still see, from the Big Easy?" The difference I saw would blow your mind.

Despite the rally in commodity prices, the USDA sees very low inflation of food prices. Good news for consumers in the lovely economic times we are living in.

Yesterday, I attended the workshop sponsored by the USDA and DOJ on competition in the livestock market and the newly proposed GIPSA rules . Yep the Department of Justice. First time for everything. Quite an interesting day. Here's what you missed.

As food demand goes on the rise, what will become of the basic necessities needed to grow those crops? A once ignored industry has found its spot in the limelight, but what will be the impacts on fertilizer markets as a result?

As the old saying goes, "Whiskeys fer drinkin', waters fer fightin'," still holds true to this day. Water is an important issue to rural communities whether it be for municipal or agricultural usage. Here is a report on the Colorado Water Congress.

Well I hope y'all enjoy your weekend! Until next time, good afternoon, good evening and good night!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

(Finally) Friday Roundup

Good morning, all. For those of you who work Monday through Friday, congratulations: you're nearly there. For the rest of you... read this quickly, then get back to work!

There are several noteworthy items today, of which I will try to hit a few. First, the obligatory update on the massive egg recall: Food and Drug Administration officials are saying the most likely culprit behind the salmonella outbreak is contaminated chicken feed, shipped to only two Iowa egg producers. According to AFP News, the FDA is unsure of the specific source of the contamination, but possible culprits include "rodents, shared equipment, [and] workers."

Caitlin Howley of The Daily Yonder wrote yesterday about the Race to the Top federal education funding program (which I mentioned here), claiming that the winners and the criteria used to choose them reveal a systemic bias against states with a high proportion of rural school districts. Although Howley doesn't mention the issue of local control (as KOA Radio does here), the reported fact that Colorado's application was docked because too much of it was still allowed - combined with the rural proclivity for self-determination - leads me to believe that a federal bias against local control may be part of the stacked deck in the process.

Also under the general heading of federal funding, several articles deal with the US Department of Agriculture making funds available for increased access to broadband internet in rural areas. Bloomberg, however, reports that some farmers are becoming concerned that this kind of USDA spending will come at the cost of other, more established, spending - like crop subsidies. Another criticism of the broadband spending comes from Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who says the Obama administration rushed billions of dollars into the program before proper planning could be completed in order to influence this November's elections.
Finally, if you liked Jon's Talib-Ag post, you might be interested in this dispatch from Pete Shinn of the Iowa National Guard's Agri-Business Development Team. Its title: "Who wants us in Afghanistan? Afghan farmers!"

Thank you for stopping by to visit us. I hope your Friday goes well, and that you all have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday Roundup

Well good morning and a happy Friday-eve day to you all. Here are just a few tid-bits to get the ole gears a turning:

Animal agriculture came under attack yet again. The Humane Society of the United State and the Animal Rights 2010 Conference hosted Taking Action for Animals (TAFA). Good insight into their cause as well as some stellar quotes!

Farmers are gaining speed in the new #78 Farm American car. Even though Bristol is over and done, thought I would put this out on peoples radar. Sure to be more to come.

A memo from the Obama administration has surfaced and it isn't good. It reveals plans for the Federal government to seize more than 10 million acres! Not only would this be a tremendous blow to agriculture, but also to rural communities whose schools, fire departments depend upon funding from the tax revenue the land generates.

Out in rural America we don't worry about a commute like our city cousin, but this is ridiculous. A 60-mile traffic jam! Officials are saying it could be backed up for weeks. It really makes you think about how incredible our transportation system and infrastructure really is.

Lastly, some food for thought, err, some thoughts about food. There is a lot of worry going around about the safety of our food and how horrible all those hormones in our meat can be. Check out this video and let Mr. Loos enlighten you.

Until next time, good afternoon, good evening and good night!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wednesday Roundup: Rural Health

Scouring the web for news and opinion of interest to the denizens of the Rural Republic, I realized there were enough stories this week dealing with health care in rural areas to produce something of a "theme day." If you like this idea and would like to see other similar collections of articles in the future (or, conversely, if you never want us to do this again), please let us know. For now, at least, here is the rural health news of the day for your enjoyment and edification.

The Hill reports on Monday's announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary (and former Kansas governor) Kathleen Sebelius that $32 million has been released to help fund seven programs designed to improve rural health. About two-thirds of this funding will go to support the Critical Access Hospital program (more information available here).

One of the other programs receiving funding is geared toward the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals in rural areas. The issue of doctor shortages was taken up this week in TIME, which predicts the growing wage gap between family practitioners and specialists could "produce a national doctor crisis in just a few years," and in The Denver Post's profile of a Brighton, Colorado clinic being described as a model for the "doctor's office of the future." The primary difference: doctors there see patients much less than in a typical practice, instead "more often act[ing] like supervisors, overseeing larger staffs of nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants."

Also included in the Sebelius announcement was a program promoting telemedicine through such technologies as videoconferencing. Coincidentally, a heretofore unimagined (by me, at least) "dark side" to telemedicine was highlighted in The Des Moines Register this week, which reported that a "coalition of anti-abortion groups vowed Friday to oppose Planned Parenthood's use of telemedicine to dispense abortion pills in Iowa." The initiative of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which more than 1,500 women have received abortion drugs through during the last two years, involves a physician in Des Moines communicating via computer with patients in more remote clinics. Once the doctor is satisfied that a woman meets a set of criteria, he or she can remotely unlock a drawer containing abortion drugs in front of the patient - who then must consume the first dose in front of the monitor.

Finally, Sebelius announced nearly a million dollars of funding for a program "designed to find innovative ways to provide mental health services" to rural military veterans. This may be wise, considering Dr. James Werth of Radford University told the Convention of the American Psychological Association last week that "Country by country, state by state, the top areas in terms of suicide are rural." According to Ivanhoe.com, Werth said rural residents may be at greater risk of suicide because they "are usually more isolated, less willing to ask for help, or to travel to get help, and they typically have more access to lethal means like guns and poisons." However, he also suggested that rural areas may have more means to address this problem, such as building upon "strong relationships with families and religion."

With that being said, take care of one another, people. I hope you have enjoyed this (slightly extended) installment of our daily roundup, and that you have a happy Wednesday.

Tuesday Roundup

Good morning, all!  We've got a few updates for today:

From CNN, a story of a nationwide meat recall, which is actually a nationwide recall of pre-packaged deli sandwiches due to the meat in them.  If you prefer to build your own sandwiches, fear not.

Politico has a report on attempts to beef up the FDA that have thus far lingered in committee.  It doesn't look like Bill will be stuck in committee much longer, with multiple recalls this election year. 

Down Under, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation explains how recent hung Parliamentary election stands to increase the importance of rural Ministers in building a coalition. 

In the markets, Japan plans to increase the price of wheat its Agriculture Ministry sells to millers, and the USDA announces that recent rains currently rate the corn crop at 82% "good" or "excellent." 

From the Greeley (Colorado) Tribune, a story of a hay fire where neighbors showed up in droves offering to help out. 

Finally, something a little more unusual:  From the BBC, new research identifies the availability of "living space", rather than competition, as being of key importance for evolution."  Basically, the more room creatures have to live, the more rapidly they develop more advantageous qualities like strength and intelligence. 

I don't mean to suggest anything metaphorical by that.  Not at all... 

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, August 23, 2010

If You Can't Beet 'Em...

Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org
In my part of the country, sweet corn season is fading into green chile season.  The pickups in the parking lot of the local farmers market are giving way to the roasting drums in front of grocery stores.  Such is the rhythm of late summer in the Rural Republic.  All summer, though, I’ve been struck with amazement with the existence of corn.  It truly is a wonder, and a testament to the ingenuity of mankind.  Ancient American peoples cross-bred grasses that more closely resemble sorghum or wheat into a completely alien crop with multiple ears of seeds along the stalk, rather than the traditional position of the seeds at the top, and then developed methods to process the corn to maximize the amount of nutrition that could be gained from it.  Over time, the crop spread all over the Americas, and was turned from a tropical plant to a reasonably hardy one in the temperate climes.  Modern breeding has only made the crop even more productive and universal.  Similarly, the venerable green chile was developed more recently through careful breeding to perfect the plant into “New Mexico #9,” a chile that’s as much a part of the culture of its eponymous state and Southern Colorado as it is a part of its cuisine. 
Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

These are just two illustrations of the ancient art of developing agricultural crops to feed the world that’s gone on all over the world for nearly 12,000 years.  New crops with new strengths are still being developed in the traditional way to this day.  But in the 21st Century, we’re learning to harness the science of genetics to supplement the art.  It’s quite a controversial subject, for various reasons in various circles, though it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.  This summer in particular has been a hot one in the war over genetically modified food. 

On August 13th, a district court judge in San Francisco ruled that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), a part of the US Department of Agriculture responsible for regulating, among other things, genetically-modified crops, had erred in deregulating Roundup-ready sugar beets without accomplishing a full Environmental Impact Survey (EIS).  As a result, the judge allowed for the crops in the ground to be harvested, but ruled that Roundup-ready beets could not be planted again next year. 

This ruling stands to cause a few issues in the sugar market.  Sugar beets account for 50% of the national sugar supply, and 95% of all sugar beets harvested in the US are genetically modified.  It’s more than a question of where we get the remaining 47.5% of next year’s sugar supply, however.  You see, beets are a biennial crop, meaning they only produce seeds after their second growing year.  As a result, traditional seeds that would have to be planted next year would have to be produced by seed crops of sugar beets that were planted over a year before this decision was made.  Brilliant! 

It gets even better.  I’ll let Blake Hurst, writing in the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute, have the punch line:
Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org
Because of the crop’s biennial nature, it’s not clear that this decision makes any sense at all. Sugar beets are harvested in the first year after planting, before they produce pollen, so they can’t contaminate neighboring crops. Oh, not so quick, White says. Sometimes beets undergo a process called bolting, and produce pollen in the first year of growth. And sometimes weed beets grow in fields, shedding pollen as well. Well, yes, but we eat the roots and leaves of table beets and Swiss chard, so even if they have been exposed to pollen from rambunctious bolting beets, it doesn’t affect the roots or foliage of that year’s crop. If we ate the seeds from table beets, we could be exposed to the herbicide-resistant genes, but we don’t. Incidentally, the sugar molecule, sucrose, is identical whether it comes from GM beets, conventional beets, or sugar cane. You can’t find, detect, test, or taste a difference.
Basically, APHIS performed the required Environmental Assessment, but, given the biological facts of beets and their relatives, determined it would be absurd to go into a long, costly EIS process.  Despite the inability to prove any potential damage whatsoever by GM beet crops, however, the District Judge ruled in favor of the organic farmers and environmental groups who reflexively filed the suit. 

The ruling is even more surprising in light of a ruling in a similar case heard by the Supreme Court earlier this summer.  This case was filed regarding Roundup-ready alfalfa, and had incredibly similar structure, in that the complaint was filed that APHIS failed to complete an EIS after the earlier Environmental Assessment was completed.  From the New York Times:
Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org
"In its first ruling on genetically engineered crops, the Supreme Court today overturned a lower court's decision prohibiting Monsanto Co. from selling pesticide-resistant alfalfa seeds until the government completes an environmental impact study."
In this case, Justice Alito, writing in the 7-1 majority, ruled the injunctions against Roundup-ready alfalfa were too restrictive, writing "An injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy, which should not be granted as a matter of course."  (The 9th Justice was Stephen Breyer, who recused himself because his brother wrote the initial District ruling on the alfalfa).  

In responding to the alfalfa decision, the Spokane Spokesman-Review brought the issue around to the larger issue of genetic modification:
According to Mike Kahn, associate director of the Agricultural Research Center at Washington State University, most of today’s soybeans grown in the United States have been engineered with a similar protein that allows them to survive the herbicide that kills adjacent weeds. Corn and cotton benefit from similar biotech protection against enemy bugs. The science has been well honed to achieve a specific, intended purpose without unleashing menacing consequences.
Not that critics don’t have valid concerns that wandering bees could spread unwanted pollen from engineered crops to nearby fields, thus tainting neighboring farmers’ organic-certified or export-bound crops. There are tested strategies for addressing those concerns, however.
Private agriculture researcher Alan Schreiber, who also raises both organic and conventional crops in the Tri-Cities area, reacted unequivocally to Monday’s ruling: “It’s a triumph of science and reason and logic over hysteria.”
The basic situation is that the environmental groups and organic farmers, as a matter of course, view all genetically-modified crops as a direct threat and try to use the justice system to prevent their use, while the USDA, as a matter of course, views all genetically-modified crops as plant pests until proven otherwise, and then proves otherwise.  As a result, they’re heavily regulated and controlled until tests sufficiently prove that the crops pose no adverse effects.  Due to all of this testing, APHIS has apparently determined that the EA is all that’s necessary, and the EIS is generally expensive overkill.  While this may or may not have been true regarding alfalfa, it seems that the biology of sugar beets and related crops justified the less-restrictive decision. 

I suspect that, after issuing their earlier decision and having it ignored by the same District Court, the Supreme Court may not be so willing to base their next decision on the question merely on the illegality of the injunction alone, and may indeed deal more directly with the question of approving genetically-modified crops.  Unless there’s a stay of the District ruling, watch for the price of sugar to rise

Monday Roundup and Open Thread

A fair amount of news for this Monday morning.

First, Mexico's begun implementing tariffs on American agricultural products, specifically pork, but a number of others as well.  KRVN's first report.  An update with a more thorough list.  And DTN's Livestock Analyst with an editorial on the whole mess as it applies to NAFTA.  This is shaping up to be a situation with no winners. 

I'm sure everyone's about tired of hearing about the egg recall.  Cook 'em if you've got 'em.

AgriNews has a few stories.  First, China's moving to the city by leaps and bounds and able to afford more and more meat.  And, honestly, who doesn't want more bacon?  Second, a new ruling continues to tighten the screws on pesticide applications that fall victim to extra EPA regulation.  Finally, more discussions regarding the world wheat market.  (If you want to delve deeper into that topic, Nick had an excellent rundown on the topic here.)

From DTN, a few more interesting editorials.  One on the potential future of further consolidation in American farming, as is previewed in Brazil.  It's hard to argue with economies of scale when they're economical.  And finally, an interesting take on the really extreme animal extremists.  These guys make the HSUS look eminently reasonable.  (For the record, I suspect the monkey wrenches are a reference to Edward Abbey.)

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life in Frontierville

In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner noted a report from the Superintendent of the 1890 Census that so much of the country had been settled that "there can hardly be said to be a frontier line" for the purposes of the census, and lamented the end of what he called "the first period of American history." In the 400 years prior to this declaration, Turner said, the constant expansion into new areas of wilderness encouraged distinctive traits such as individualism, creativity, and "that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom." In short, for Turner, the frontier was what made America America.

Nearly a century later, Frank and Deborah Popper (of "Buffalo Commons" fame and/or infamy) took note of population losses on the Great Plains and theorized that Turner had prematurely declared the death of the American frontier. Florence Williams, writing in High Country News, describes this phenomenon as "the frontier revers[ing] itself early in the 20th century, making a U-turn east." I would argue that it never really left.

I started thinking about this on Saturday night when, after attending Mass in a neighboring town, we watched The Sound of Music with Gabi, the exchange student living with us this year. (Gabi is from Austria and has heard, from at least a dozen Americans in her first two weeks here, "Oh, like in The Sound of Music!" So, we thought we'd fill her in on what everyone's talking about.) As you may remember, the movie's cinematography focuses a great deal on the natural beauty and historic architecture of Austria. During one of the shots the exterior of Maria's abbey, Gabi exclaimed, "Wow, the churches here really look different from the ones in Austria."

The particular church we had attended that night was hardly recognizable as a church at all, in fact. It is a wood-frame building with plain, white siding. It has a few small stained-glass windows, but during the daylight hours it is hard to notice them. Without the sign in front, one could easily mistake it for a house. It actually was built as a church (originally a Lutheran one) during the 1920s, then used as a Masonic Lodge, then finally turned into a Catholic church in 1949.

What struck me about Gabi's comparison was the age of the structures. The abbey used for the exterior shots (the interior was a Hollywood soundstage) in The Sound of Music had been there in some form for well over 900 years before the church we attended on Saturday was built. Much of what you see in the movie is "newer" additions... they're only 380 years old now

The thing is, the church built in the 1920s is one of the older buildings in that town. Colorado only became a state in 1876, and most of the towns in northeastern Colorado (where I live) weren't established until at least ten years after that. People of European descent have only lived in this area for just a little more than one lifetime (and well under two average lifetimes, by today's standards).

To put this in context, Turner says it took about the same amount of time after the founding of Jamestown for Virginia frontiersmen to cross (in any significant numbers) the Allegheny Mountains - the western boundary of... Virginia. And the era of frontier expansion in Europe, according to C.J. Bishko of the University of Virginia, took place over three 200-year phases. Chronologically, my little corner of the world could certainly still be called "frontier."

It is still a frontier demographically, as well. The census standard quoted by Turner in 1893 is purely based on population density: two persons per square mile or fewer. As of the 2000 Census, the five counties (in three states) between Interstates 76 and 70 and straddling the eastern boundary of Colorado averaged a little under 4.2 persons per square mile. At least one county within about a 90-minute drive in each of the four directions from this spot sits at 2.0 or fewer.

Partially as a result of the Poppers' work , the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded the development of updated standards for the designation "frontier" which would be "more generally acceptable than using only a single factor - population density within a county." Essentially, the new definition combines the old measurement of population density with distance and time of travel required to reach particular services and/or markets. In the case of telehealth, the travel time and distance cited are 60 miles or 60 minutes away from a hospital with 75 beds or more.

Using this model, every county touching either side of the eastern border of Colorado is considered "frontier" (see map here), as are huge chunks of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountain West. According to Florence Williams, "Over a third of the Plains' counties - 900,000 square miles - hold fewer than six people per square mile, and nearly half of those counties hold fewer than two people per square mile."

All of this raises the question of whether or not it really matters whether the places many of us in the Rural Republic live are considered "frontier" or not. As a practical matter, it really makes no difference what you call it (except with, perhaps, eligibility for certain programs through organizations like the Department of Health and Human Services). But I think there is a difference in the way we live.

One hundred and seventeen years ago, Frederick Jackson Turner wrote:

[T]o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom-these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.

All of these traits are on constant display where I live, and I'm sure those of you reading this from similar backgrounds can identify with at least some of them. It was these frontier traits that Turner believed defined the character of our country and, in short, made America great. Despite Turner's lament, the frontier is still alive and, I believe, the people who live here may hold the key to what can make our country great again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Daily Roundup - Weekend Edition

Hopefully all of you are enjoying your weekend, even if you are like me and will be working for a pretty big chunk of it. If you have time, check out our (mostly) daily update of news affecting rural America. See you Monday!

DTN Ag Policy Blog - A Look at House Races That Could Affect Agriculture - Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton gives us the rundown of several important congressional races.

theOregonPolitico.com - Having a stake in rural survival -"“We’ve got to get the rest of the country understanding that they have a stake in rural economics and survival..."

NPR - In Rural Calif., A Debate On How To Save A Hospital - "If the county goes down, the hospital goes down. If the hospital goes down, the city goes down."

KansasReporter.org - Kansas, Midwest rural economies continue to soften - "Prospects for economic recovery in rural America continued to slow in August, bankers in Kansas and nine other Midwestern states told a new survey."

Reuters - U.S. farmers oppose EPA's proposed dust regulation - "American farmers have been ridiculing a proposal by U.S. regulators to reduce the amount of dust floating in rural air."

Surely American farmers wouldn't "ridicule" government regulators, would they?!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thursday Roundup

The bottle calves are fed and the exchange student is on the bus, so it must be time for our morning roundup! I hope your Thursday treats you well, wherever in the Rural Republic you might be. Please let us know what you think, or if we're missing something we should be covering.

KRVN Rural Radio - Russia's grain ban showcases Egypt's love of bread - "...the world's largest wheat importer where half of the 80 million residents rely on subsidized bread to survive." The dominoes start to fall.

DesMoinesRegister.com - Vilsack: Estate tax won't hurt most farmers - He "thinks the estate tax will be restored," but "expects to see a large enough exemption to cover the 'vast majority' of farms and ranches in the country." Can we get that in writing?

The Guardian - Artificial meat? Food for thought by 2050 - "Leading scientists say meat grown in vats may be necessary to feed 9 billion people expected to be alive by middle of century" That, or Soylent Green.

BEEF magazine - Proposed GIPSA rule would set back modern beef industry - [opinion] "It’s Big Brother at a level most never thought would be proposed in America."

Kansas Liberty - Carnival games - Reflections from a Kansas grandfather following the county fair.

Wednesday Roundup

A little light on the updates today.  Hopefully some folks have some good information to add.

The Economist - A fertile field for BHP - On potash mining and the fertilizer business in Canada. 

The Economist - Straw man - Another take on the spike in wheat prices.

Farm Bureau - The other fertilizer - A rather funny blog post about organic farmers using "organic" fertilizer. 

Brownfield Ag News - Yield uncertainties support corn and soybeans - That title pretty much says it all; market updates.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Country Mouse turned into a City Mouse

Editor's Note:  We liked frequent commenter J-Lo's input so much, we asked her if she'd be interested in writing a guest column for us to post on the front page.  One of the ultimate goals of Rural Republic is to allow an open forum for anyone to post their thoughts, ideas, problems, and solutions on just about any topic.  If you think you'd like to try your hand at writing and join in the conversation, comments are a good start.  If we're not talking about anything that interests you, talk about what does interest you in the Open Threads.  And if you want to submit an essay for front page consideration, feel free to email us at ruralrepublic(dot)us(at)gmail(dot)com.  Thanks for the outstanding and thought-provoking article, J-Lo!

I watched The Devil Wears Prada last night. I really like that movie. I’ve seen it a few times. It would definitely be the epitome of what I would consider the opposite of rural life to the extreme. The part of that movie which I can really relate to is when Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, transforms from a serious, wide-eyed and innocent journalist to a quick-witted and harsh "fashionista". She is so seduced by the fashion world, that she temporarily looses her roots. When I moved to the city, over ten years ago, I remember feeling so insecure and then I quickly latched on to confident, somewhat overbearing city women trying to fit in. Several years went by and I soberly took a look at the life and friendships I had and determined that I truly didn’t really care for much, if any, of it. I remember a previous work mentor, who I was trying to emulate at the time, would always tell me to “fake it until you make it”. I soon realized that I was just being a fake. I didn’t like it. Which got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: what separates city slickers from us farm kids? I don’t want to villainize the city, but there is a huge distinction. Hollywood likes to play off farm kids as ignorant, innocent and extremely simple-minded. While that perception doesn’t surprise me, it does usually insult me, as it should.

When pondering about writing this, I found it almost humorous that I grew up 6 miles more rural than the creator of this blog, but have no practical knowledge about farming. Maybe it’s because my mom was a city slicker transplanted into rural Colorado when she married my dad, but there are just certain boasting points that a country girl like me should have that I don’t. I can’t explain why, but I sometimes feel like a fake or a traitor when I try to describe myself as a product of a good, rural upbringing. For instance, I pretty well understand the price of crops/livestock and how that affects my family. However, if you asked me how many head of cattle my dad has, I would respond with, “Ask my husband, he knows.” Or, when other farm kids talk farm talk, I’ll admit that I get a little lost (okay a LOT lost). I know the terms bushel and acre, but if you asked me to describe them, you’d get a generic textbook answer. I don’t know how to drive a tractor. I don’t like to shoot guns. I was never in 4-H or FFA. And, probably the most scandalous, in my husband’s opinion, I like my steak cooked medium well. That’s not a typo…too much pink and I don’t touch it. Even more ironic, if you look at my step-sister, she could definitely be the poster girl for what a farm girl should be. She didn’t move to the farm until she was 8. She lived 10 years on the farm before going off to college and you guessed it: she can shoot (scarily well), she enjoyed being in FFA, she probably knows how to drive a tractor and I’m pretty sure she’d be happy eating a steak just shy of it mooing.

The next natural step for me to validate my rural member card is to think of my upbringing. That’s when it hit me: Being rural is such a deep-rooted, proud, unexplainable feeling that I can’t imagine describing myself as anything different. It is as much of who I am as is my faith in God. I may not be FFA’s poster girl for being the perfect farmer’s daughter, but I can reassure you that some of my most vivid and fond memories of growing up probably do remove me from city slicker status. For instance, I remember curling up into a ball behind the seat in my dad’s tractor to take a nap while he was driving during planting season. I’ve stepped on a rattlesnake and didn’t freak out. I loved playing with my cousins on a regular basis. I remember opening and shutting the chutes on an irrigation pipe in the field by my house all summer long and then being surprised when, at the end of the summer of doing it faithfully, my dad handed me $20. I just thought I had to do it, I never expected to get paid to do it. I’ve been shocked multiple times by my brother with a hot shot. And, you can take all those expensive, real-life playhouses that kids play in now (yes, even my kids have one of those plastic mini-houses), but in my mind the perfect playhouse growing up was an old hog pen in my grandma’s yard. Yup, being a farm girl is so deeply rooted in me that I feel sorry for those city slickers who missed out on those good times.

Which brings me to my original question: what separates city slickers from us farm kids? I’ve been a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana for over ten years now. Fort Wayne’s population is approximately 256,000. I am a farm kid in the city. Sigh. I have since found a good niche in this city and am surrounded with great friends, many who have lived their entire lives in the city.

Here are some of my observations to distinguish the difference in my way of life now versus when I was growing up. The funniest thing that most farm kids who move to the city will tell you is that we all go through a temporary period of ‘wave-a-lot-itis’. It drove my husband nuts when we moved here because I would (completely out of habit) attempt to wave ‘hi’ to all the oncoming cars that met me on the road. I got weird looks, awkward stares, and probably even a few choice words and some hand gestures. Probably for the pure practicality of it, it never occurs to a city person to wave to an on-coming car, unless it is someone they know from church or work.

Rural people are often portrayed as being easily manipulated. That just has never been my experience. I probably am very gullible, and do like to be overly courteous to others (it’s how I was raised), but I also notice that while I may believe someone telling me that they climbed Mt. Everest, I am usually the first to see when someone is not genuine in how they are responding to others. I may be polite, but I don’t like to feed others egos if I feel they are out of line.

Sometimes, I stick my foot in my mouth. Country people are often looked as being too honest (is there such a thing?). I think that goes back to in a rural setting, there are few secrets. Everyone knows everyone’s business. It does not benefit anyone in a rural town to lie or spin a story to one’s benefit. It almost always is exposed. Sometimes, we just short circuit and tell you too much information. There are definitely honest and open city people, but there is a difference.

The biggest and most noticeable difference is the pace of life. Country people are more in tune to nature. There are physical reminders all around you that things are always changing, but in that change are constant cycles. Summer always changes into fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, and spring to summer. Why the attempt to rush it? This change of pace was the hardest change for me, but quite inevitably the fastest change I had to go through. If you walk with runners, you’ll get knocked down. I relish in the brief moments of quietness. It was something I never noticed growing up, but always treasure now.

I wonder what fabric of our DNA gave us the ability to be as resourceful as Red Green, as honorable and patriotic as John Wayne, and as ornery as the Dukes of Hazard. Whatever it is, I’m very proud and humbled that I was privileged enough to experience that. Upon writing this, it occurred to me that I am raising a generation of city kids. I wonder how much of my country upbringing carries over to the next generation. I’ll have to save that entire topic for a different blog.

Tuesday Roundup and Open Thread

Welcome to the inaugural morning roundup.  Every Monday through Saturday, we're going to update the front page with the latest in news and opinion from around the rural world.  This is by no means exhaustive research, of course, so feel free to suggest sources and stories in the comments.  Comments are open to topics mentioned as well as any other open topic you're interested in.

First, as seen on Facebook (Please click the link on the top right of the page, if you're not our friend over there already) :  DTN/Progressive Farmer - Mentoring Farmers Without Heirs

BBC News - China's AgBank raises record $22bn

Brownfield Ag News - EPA official denies that ag is being targeted

American Farm Bureau - Agriculture Is a Bright Spot in the U.S. Trade Picture

Cattle Network -Sysco Says Food Prices Rose For First Time In A Year On Higher Meat, Dairy Costs

Minnesota Independent - Court bans planting of genetically modified sugar beets

Comments?  Any other links to share?  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Drought Sparks Wheat Prices Ablaze

The Colorado wheat harvest is officially over and it is starting to wrap up across the country as well. With most of this year’s bumper crop in the bin there is nothing to do but sit back, watch the price of wheat fall to its cyclical lows and wait for this years harvest to be turned into flour, bread and Smack ‘Ums. But wait, hold the phone! Even with reports of bin busting yields and an estimated harvest of 2 billion bushels -1.95bb were expected- the price of wheat is headed through the roof! My home state of Colorado even reported record breaking production of 103.5 million bushels. So what gives?
Let’s look at the crop itself. Wheat accounts for 20% of the world’s caloric intake. One crop makes up 1/5 of what we eat in the form of cakes, bread, flour, pasta, ect. On average the world produces somewhere around 600 million metric tons. According to the FAO, four countries produce the lion’s share for the world: China, India, Russia and the US. In 2009-2010 these counties produce around 318 million tons. That is approximately 10.6 billion bushels for all the Americans out there. On the flipside, there are countries around the world that do not grow enough wheat to meet their consumption needs. Among these are two already mentioned, India and China. Imports are widely distributed throughout the world; the regions that import the most wheat -about 25% of all imports- are North Africa and Middle East markets.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Subsidiarity in Rural America

“Subsidiarity” has long been a central concept in Christian thought on the relationship between individuals and society. Most clearly enunciated in Roman Catholic teaching from the late Nineteenth Century onward, subsidiarity is a principle which holds that “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883). In other words, every activity in society should be carried out at the smallest manageable level, starting within the family and moving up as necessary through various layers of non-governmental and, eventually, governmental strata.

Perhaps the most basic illustration of this idea is in the area of child-rearing. Few people in modern, Western culture would disagree that the best environment for a child to be raised is with his or her parents. Likewise, most people acknowledge that there are situations in which parents are unwilling or unable to provide a safe home of their children and that, in such cases, it is usually preferable to place the children with grandparents or other close family or friends. Generally, we consider declaring a child to be a “ward of the state” to be a last resort.

However, it is not unheard of—either in art or in life—for the opposite approach to child-rearing to be taken. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes shared nurseries in which children are raised by the State and, along the way, essentially brainwashed to accept their government’s complete control over their lives. Pamala Griset and Sue Mahan, in Terrorism in Perspective, point out that “real-life” totalitarian regimes have followed similar programs, including experiments during much of the existence of the Soviet Union in removing children from the homes of their parents and raising them in communal houses.

The contrast between these two approaches highlights the underlying premise of the principle of subsidiarity, which is that each individual human person is made in the image and likeness of God and has free will (autonomy) and inherent dignity. Put another way, all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” As such, social groupings such as governments ought to exist to serve the human person, rather than—as in the case of Huxley’s vision above—the person existing to serve the government.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Fringe of History

Yesterday, I got back on the bicycle, and found myself traveling down chipseal roads on the fringe between town and country in my neighborhood of the Rural Republic.  As I pedaled between subdivisions and sorghum fields, between pre-fabs and pasture, with nothing to occupy my mind beside the next foot-stroke, I found that what I saw around me reminded me of an article I'd read a few months earlier about the shrinking of a city, rather than the growth of one.  The article was a piece from The Economist about efforts to “right-size” Detroit, and in hunting it down, I found a New York Times piece dreaming of using that shrinking city as an opportunity to “green” the city.  At issue here is not what to do about Detroit, however.  It got me thinking instead about the fringe between urban and rural. 

America is a young country.  Ours is a country with a history devoted almost entirely to unhindered growth and expansion.  In fact, the idea of shrinking and disappearing cities barely registers in our collective, and then only in tales of frontier towns somewhere else, of boom and bust and gold rushes.  Ghost towns are ghostly – empty and abandoned – but they're also towns: small, out of the way, and easily forgotten.  Historically speaking, however, the idea that only small towns disappear, while cities are permanent, is an outlier – one that could only exist in a country that's only a few hundred years old. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Opening-Week Open Thread

Currently, the blog format of this site is somewhat limited.  In the future, we hope to open up the site a great deal, and allow for all citizens to share their own essays, thoughts, and links.  We have a few other surprises around the corner, too.  Until then, however, we're going to post a weekly open thread, where everyone can feel free to add to the dialogue of the Republic.  If it's a topic that draws enough interest, we'll re-post it as a main article, to encourage further discussion. 

Comment away!

The First Brick

Rural people are different. It's really that simple. Yet, when you think about it, it's a bit more complicated than that. Rural people, despite being equally simple at first impression, are, on further study, incredibly complex folk. We are, by nature, jacks of all trades, and aces of none. We are, by necessity masters of our own lives, because in rural places, people on whom we could depend are further apart, and likely have the same problems of their own, anyway. For rural people, time moves differently – we'll probably do something tomorrow that's not unlike what we're doing today, and in a year, we'll be doing the same thing, too. From month to month, however, everything changes. Daily, there's a slow progress of things, that's almost imperceptible at times. Monthly, there's a natural movement of nature and of our lives. Yearly, however, we're reminded that the monthly appearance of progress doesn't change things much, at all.

This non-progressing progress of time has placed rural life at a unique place in this world. From the beginning, farmers and herders, Cain and Abel, were at odds. Farmers had their plots to tend, and were situated in one place. Herders had their herds to tend, and moved about the world. And the plots of farmers were probably pretty tasty to the flocks of the herders. If you travel to poorer countries, you can see the difference rather starkly, even today. In modernized countries, however, that eternal battle is over. It ended with the invention of barbed wire – an creation which separated forever the crops of the farmer and the pastures of the herder.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Rural populations have long played a role in questions of power changes disproportionate to their numbers or wealth. Presumably, a major reason for this is due to the rural populations’ ownership, control, and familiarity with a disproportionate amount of real estate. Bill Ardolino, writing in the Long War Journal, has an interesting vignette reflecting on the intersection between insurgency, counterinsurgency, and agricultural economics. 

Initially, the issue seems to be one of a basic turf war between the Taliban and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) over the ownership and control of a bazaar in a rural part of the Now Zad district in the notorious Helmand province, with a suspicious, if a bit bullied, rural population standing between the two parties. Just beneath that surface, however, is a tale of economic oppression that’s a level beyond the basic, mob-style intimidation and “protection” we’ve been taught to expect; an economic oppression that seems to be lifted from the pages of the history of agriculture in the post-Civil War American South: 
And perhaps a majority of area residents are effectively indentured servants of the Taliban, beholden to insurgent drug lords through the credit system established by the Akhundzada family during their rule of Helmand in the 1980s and 1990s. Farmers receive start-up capital in the form of money, goods, and services that enable them to feed their families while cultivating a poppy crop. After the harvest, the borrowers owe a certain yield to the creditors, regardless of weather, the health of the crop, or other factors. If this debt is not repaid, the farmer falls further into debt or can be subject to beatings and even murder. The locals’ resulting servile fear of the Taliban makes cooperation with Americans and the Afghan government security forces an untenable proposition.