Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Roundup

Harvest-time, high efficiency roundup today. Hope all is well, and you have a great weekend!

"Why Small Towns Breed Pro Athletes" - "Only one-in-four Americans come from towns of fewer than 50,000 people, but nearly half of NFL players and PGA golfers do..." Raiders QB Jason Campbell, who grew up in Taylorsville, MS (pop. 1,341) says, "you have nothing else to do [there] but sit outside and throw a football at trees."

"Farmland: The Next Boom?" - "Is farmland going to be the next gold?" Wealthy non-farmers are joining farmers in paying too much for ground. Real-estate investment trusts that would allow regular investors to specifically target ag land are in the works.

"In Rural Missouri, an IT Outsourcing Company Challenges India" - Onshore Technology Services, founded by Gulf War vet Shane Mayes, teaches software development skills to unemployed or underemployed people in very rural areas and offers prices for IT services competitive with overseas companies. "While I was in Turkey for the Air Force, a sort of zealous patriotism that I have began to solidify."

Finally - and most importantly, given yesterday's outage - "There is an alternative to accessing your FarmVille farm outside of Facebook." If any future outages are like this most recent one, though, farmers may have nothing to fear. Zynga, the makers of FarmVille, assured its customers, "Wither will be off until all is well and your puppies will not get hungry and run away in the meantime, either."

Well, that's a relief. Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Welcome to Wednesday! I hope you are all having a good week; in my part of the Rural Republic, fat cattle are going out today and high moisture corn will be coming in tomorrow. So, without further ado, here is (some of) the news of the day.

As I wrote about here, a major concern for many rural communities is the out-migration (or "brain-drain") of young people from their hometowns. The High Plains Journal reported this week on a presentation by Weldon Sleight, the dean of the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, on the college's philosophy of encouraging agricultural entrepreneurship - going "back to our base" in farm country - to revitalize rural areas. Also important, according to Sleight, is instilling a sense of community pride both in youth and adults. This includes supporting local, small businesses. "It kills me," he says, "when people drive 40 miles to go to Walmart when their local hardware store is about to close."

However, not everyone is convinced that focusing so much attention on getting young people to stay (or come back) is the best way to "bring new life" to small towns. Kathie Starkweather of the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska told Radio Iowa this week that small towns would be better served to "let them go" and target, instead, Baby Boomers and senior citizens. Many people over 50, she says, are interested in starting small businesses and small towns offer what they want: "“The basic quiet, not having to be involved in the rat race but also being allowed to participate in the community.”

To change subjects a little bit, the Visalia (CA) Times-Delta ran a story about a University of California study examining tensions between six "semi-rural" cities in California and the neighboring farmers. The author detailed frustrations on both sides, such as farmers having equipment stolen and vandalized, and city dwellers being irritated by dust and noise. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the "authors of the university report indicate that the chances for compatible relations between farmers and urbanites will mostly require farmers to adjust or revise their traditional practices."

Finally, NPR had an interesting report on Cuban agriculture that could serve as something of a cautionary tale. "After five decades of state-controlled agriculture," the story says, "the country struggles to feed itself, forcing the government to import some 70 percent of the island's food." When all of the farmland was nationalized with the rise of the communist regime, those who had farmed it walked away. Now, the government is trying to encourage food production by giving anyone willing to farm a free ten-year lease on federal land. Some of those taking advantage of the program are highly educated former employees of the government who are eager for entrepreneurial opportunities, however limited. As one new farmer says, "We can't all be intellectuals, because then there'd be nothing to eat."

Now that's food for thought.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday Roundup

Good morning, all!  I didn't get a chance to get to the roundup for the past few days, so we've got a pretty good selection of links this morning.
From the Chicago Tribune, a story on the "locavore" movement.  It's a fairly in-depth look at the advantages and disadvantages, and even includes a somewhat critical discussion of its inefficiencies.  I can certainly sympathize with the concept; a freezer full of meat you've met before is a good and delicious thing.  But I'm not convinced that everything in your refrigerator and pantry can or even should be locally procured.  To me, it seems like taking a good idea too far.  This may take the form of a longer essay in the future.  Until then, does anyone have any thoughts? 
Locusts have been a major pest since the days recounted in the Bible.  Now, scientists in Australia are attempting to model the swarms of immature locusts as they walk, in an attempt to be able to destroy them before they take flight.  The model of the marching swarm is unpredictable, so scientists are attempting to observe swarms using unmanned aircraft, to either identify a pattern, or, more likely, to figure out what influences a swarm to change direction. 
Part of the aim of the Rural Republic is not only to discuss purely rural issues, but to observe and comment on the faults in society as a whole between the rural and the more urban way of life, whether that fault is social, economic, cultural, or, in this case, political.  The Denver Post reports on the Republican candidate for Senate, Ken Buck, attempting to woo suburban voters.  While Greeley isn't exactly the middle of nowhere, he seems to identify more strongly with the rural than the suburban way of life, as evidenced by a previous proud proclamation that his boots had real, eh, bull manure on them, rather than just the more figurative variety.  In the article, one such targeted suburban voter comments that "He definitely doesn't act like he's lived in Denver in the commercials."  I'm inclined to view that as a positive attribute, but, then again, this is the Rural Republic.  Others may feel differently.  As we approach November, this election in particular may be an interesting study in the population at large's preference for either the social elite, or the "country bumpkin."
From the Financial Times, a few updates on the markets.  First, corn prices are on the rise, over $5/bushel at the time of this story.  This is mostly attributable to yields that are a little lower than average, though being coupled with a larger commodities rally in general doesn't exactly hurt.  Additionally, we've been keeping up with the issues involving the Russian wheat crop this year.  Unfortunately, it seems their woes may continue.  Unless the Russian breadbasket can get some timely rains, the soil may be too dry on the planting of their winter wheat crop to germinate a successful crop next year.  We'll keep an eye on this story. 
The FDA is going to hear arguments this week regarding the approval of the first genetically-modified meat; a breed of salmon that has been modified to continue producing growth hormone throughout its lifetime, and in effect grow very, very large.  In light of recent GM plant rulings, this could really go either way.  No word on how the monster salmon tastes. 
Finally, from Farm Industry News, a list of 20 things everyone needs to know about the past, present, and future of agriculture.  It's a really fascinating list, and I guarantee that everyone will learn something.  If you click through to any of the articles in this roundup, click through to this one. 
Thanks for reading!  Keep coming back for more updates later this week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Roundup

It's a busy, busy time of year in the Rural Republic, so we've been kind of on again and off again with our daily roundups. We'll try to keep this site somewhat responsive to our readers' interests, so if you feel something's missing on the days we don't post a roundup, please let us know. Conversely, if you'd rather see us focus less energy on roundups and more on something else, we'd like to know that, too. We're a no-budget, volunteer outfit here, but we aim to please!

So, for your consideration, here are some stories that caught my attention today.

The U.S. government has been pouring a lot of money into expansion of rural broadband recently, but not all broadband is created equal. Apparently, some of the broadband connections in rural areas of the United Kingdom are inferior to a much lower-tech solution: carrier pigeons! The BBC has a report on a competition held in which ten pigeons with USB drives strapped to their legs took on a five-minute video upload. Seventy-five minutes after the pigeons were released and the upload was started, the birds had reached their destination 120 km away, while the upload was only 24% complete.

Moving back across the pond and heading north, a column in The Williams Lake Tribune details a British Columbia feedlot's creative attempt to find a niche market. Seeking to "produce a product that is equal to Japan’s Kobe beef, where Wagyu cattle are fed a beer a day and massaged with saki before they are slaughtered," Bill and Darlene Freding are experimenting with feeding each of their cattle a litre of wine every day. Reportedly, the results so far have been delicious... and, as the author says, "the cattle aren't drunk, just happy."

Some other cattle that may not have been so happy were reported having been "rustled" near Chadron, NE. KRVN tells us that, while cattle rustling is no longer the hanging offense it was in the "Old West," the state of Nebraska still takes this crime very seriously. Thirty-year-old Jacob Otte was convicted of two different instances of stealing about 10 head of cattle and reselling them in another part of the state. The penalty: two consecutive 3-5 year terms in prison, plus about $17,000 in restitution (mainly to the insurance company that covered both ranchers' cattle). Don't mess with Nebraska cattlemen.

And don't mess with Texas... or, at least, the Texans in Hemphill County in the northeastern corner of the state's panhandle. The Texas Observer has an interesting article about the residents of the county and their confrontation with billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who has been systematically buying up water rights in rural Texas to sell to the state's sprawling cities. In another "water is for fighting over" story, the county is ground zero for a legal battle in which Texas courts will decide whether or not groundwater is - like oil and gas - owned in place by the person with rights to that water and, if so, whether a groundwater management district placing restrictions on pumping is an uncompensated "taking" of that property. It obviously gets complicated with legal jargon, but read the article: the people trying to sell their water rights are somewho both victims and victimizers in this scenario. The same story will no doubt be played out across the High Plains in the coming years.

So long for now, and have a great weekend. I hope sometime soon, we all get a little time to relax!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Roundup

Dan Maes, the embattled GOP candidate for governor in Colorado, recently compounded a campaign-finance snafu by stating, "If people want a seat at the table, what's the first thing they've got to do? Write a check." As uncomfortable as this observation may make us with the political process, ag-industry groups seem to subscribe to the same theory. According to Agri-Pulse, political action committees (PACs) representing food and agricultural industry groups have increased contributions to candidates in congressional races this year, compared to the 2008 election.

As it turns out, this may be a prudent strategy. At least two issues with regard to the federal government and its relationship with agricultural producers are in the news this week. First, Progressive Farmer Senior Editor Victoria Myers reports on concerns from farm groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) about what she calls an "impending train wreck" with the return of the estate tax. As I mentioned here, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack thinks exemptions will be created that cover most farmers and ranchers, but Myers quotes the NCBA's executive director of legislative affairs as saying that, "as things stand today the estate tax, or death tax, will revert to pre-2001 levels January 2011. Those tax rates are graduated, with 55% being the top bracket..." As Myers points out, many farms and ranches are asset-rich (especially with today's high land values), but cash poor. If heirs in this situation are forced to pay 55% of the value of their inheritance in taxes, farms may have to be broken up and sold in order to do so.

Another story involving federal policy appeared in The New York Times under the headline, "U.S. Meat Farmers Brace for Limits on Antibiotics." The Times links the timing of expected FDA guidelines intended to prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the recent salmonella outbreak and egg recall (even though, as the reporter adds parenthetically, no drug resistant strains of salmonella have been implicated in the egg cases). According to the article, many medical and health experts are calling for action that would prohibit most uses of antibiotics on healthy animals, either for disease prevention or for speeding growth (the latter of which appears to be the scope of the the forthcoming guidelines). Opposing these experts are meat producers and many veterinary scientists, who cite Denmark's experience with similar regulations as evidence that they may be counterproductive.

As a cattle feeder, I can attest that overly restrictive guidelines would probably result in many more treatment expenses for our operation, as well as a likely increase in the number of animal deaths. We give chlortetracycline (CTC), a broad-spectrum antibiotic, to pens that seem to be experiencing a large number of sick cattle at once. The most efficient way of distributing CTC is to mix it with the feed for the entire pen, which of course includes some currently healthy cattle. If we were to wait until the cattle are visibly sick, however, some of them would already be too far gone to save. Those that do survive generally have lower weight gain. This in turn makes the beef at your supermarket more expensive. As such, I concur with what one pork producer told The Times for this article: "In the end, the producers will do what is right... My only concern is that we make decisions in a scientific fashion, not a political fashion."

Of course, many of these kinds of decisions will be made by politicians, who almost by definition will be making them in "a political fashion." So, it might not be such a bad idea to figure out how to "get a seat at the table."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday Roundup

Back after a few days of hiatus, driven mostly by really, really slow news days (or at least news being focused elsewhere), it's your daily roundup.  

First, thanks to everyone who's followed our page on Facebook.  We're now at 100!  It took us just over 5 weeks to get to the century mark.  How quickly can we get 200?  If you like what we're doing, recommend us to your friends. 

I'll start with the quirky story, and save the controversy for the finish. 

Dekalb County, Georgia, is suing a resident for growing too many crops on his property, apparently against county zoning regulations.  From the story, it sounds like he's got quite the variety of crops, and does quite well for himself and his neighbors.  Unfortunately, the proverbial overzealous regulator (I like to think of the bad guy in the first Ghostbusters movie), combined with the tightening of government budgets everywhere due to the economy, resulted in his being highlighted as someone they could probably get some fines off of.

Corn harvest is moving along.  Brownfield Ag News reports that 13% of Indiana's crop is already in the bins, and moving along.  Meanwhile, the Nebraska Corn Board has compiled pictures and reports from FFA students across the state, depicting the trends toward harvest in the Cornhusker State. 

Finally, once again, water is for fighting.  Only this time, in the Land of Enchantment.  The New Mexico Environment Department filed a petition to designate 1,450 miles of waterways, 29 lakes and about 6,000 acres of wetlands in federal wilderness areas as "Outstanding Natural Resource Waters."  The New Mexico Cattle Growers Association filed for a restraining order to prevent the designation of that land until more information could be gathered.  However, the State Supreme Court rescinded that order, and it looks as though designation hearings will go on apace.  The fight isn't over yet, as the petition will now be heard Water Quality Control Commission. 

According to the AP story, the only two areas currently under the "outstanding natural resource waters" designation, the Rio Santa Barbara and streams in the Valle Vidal area.  A quick review of the Google and a little local knowledge make me tend to agree with those to designations, at least on the surface.  Both areas are high-mountain watersheds in the Sangre de Cristo range, and probably do little but make good camping areas and then get that water somewhere else more useful.  There's no information on where all of the areas listed in the new petition are, so I can't comment on that one, although there are bound to be more than a few that might infringe on grazing lands (despite claims from the Environment Department that grazing will be unaffected).  It's also not exactly clear whether all of the land is contained within "federal wilderness areas," or if that just refers to the location of the wetlands.  More to follow, to be sure. 

Whether it's grazing in federal wilderness areas, or farming and ranching on lease land around on military-owned land around a military range like Pinon Canyon or elsewhere, it's going to be an incredibly touchy subject.  After all, peoples' livelihoods are at stake, however not only do they not have property rights, but the land is owned by the folks who make the rules, run the courts, have bottomless pockets, and always have eminent domain to fall back on.  Sometimes, it seems land is for fighting, too. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Friday Roundup and Open Thread

Today's roundup is a little thin, partly because it seems to be a fairly slow news day for rural issues, and partly because we really got going on silage in earnest this afternoon (so I haven't been home much today). Nevertheless, I hope something here is of interest to you, and that you have a good weekend.

First up is a story from our friends in Canada. One frequent complaint among farmers is that a large percentage of non-rural people think their food magically appears at the supermarket, and are ignorant of what it takes for it to get there. Thirty-five farms in Manitoba have signed up for a project to help alleviate this problem in Canada: on September 19th, they will be available for public tours during the province's first Open Farm Day. According to one participating farmer, "It's very important because it connects people back to what they eat. It's just a good think [sic] to see that, okay this chicken running around is now roasted chicken dinner on a Sunday." Indeed.

If you read my "Subsidiarity" post a while back, you might remember my reference to farm subsidies as a Faustian bargain. Well, the Iowa Farm Bureau may agree with that assessment. In what Brownfield news refers to as "to our knowledge, the first time a farm group has made it part of their policy," the organization passed a resolution calling for the end of direct subsidy payments to farmers and their replacement with an improved revenue insurance program that would cover both crops and livestock. Interesting, but I predict they will gain little traction on this issue for the foreseeable future.

In the "perception is reality" department, The High Plains Journal reports that a Creighton University survey of rural bankers' economic optimism showed a decline for the second straight month. Contrast that with a story I linked to just over a week ago under the headline, "Reports show encouraging growth in rural economy," and what do you get? If you're like me, it's confusion.

Finally, Budget Travel magazine has released its list of "America's Coolest Small Towns." Sadly, there seems to be a pretty large "cool" dead zone in the middle part of the country, with Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and both Dakotas completely shut out of both the Top 10 and the "Best of the Rest." Hang in there, though, Midwesterners: football season has started, and hope springs eternal.

With that, have a good weekend, take care, and please say a prayer or two tomorrow in remembrance of those who died 9/11/01. They are not forgotten.

Thursday Roundup

Good morning, good morning, good morning! Welcome to the Thursday Round up. Let's get started.

I hate to start off a post with a story this depressing, but I believe there is no other issue of more importance. PJTV posted this video on illegal immigrations impact on ranchers and rural communities along Arizona's border. No matter what your stance on this delicate issue, immigration, this video is something that you must see. If you are to read (watch) one article from todays post, please make it this.

Coming up faster than we know is harvest, the holiday season and then the turn of a new year. Oh, the opportunities that new beginnings hold! Well, the new year also holds a surprise for producers as well. Okay, it really isn't a surprise because we all know it will be happening. What is it you might ask? The EPA's interim Tier 4 emissions regulation will be in effect. So no matter whether the tractor you drive is Red or Green, all new tractors will have to meet these stringent (ridiculously over stringent in my humble opinion) emission regulations. Click on the colors for information about what you will see from two leading ag equipment manufacturers, Case IH and John Deere.

Even though harvest keeps on rolling, we cannot keep it in the bins! There is some very strong demand for US ag commodities on the global stage from the effects of the Black Sea drought. The recent demand has caused supplies of commercial cash grain to slide by 2% this last week. This will be welcome news to farmers expecting to harvest a large corn and soybean crop this year.

Thank you for joining us here at the Rural Republic. I hope everyone has enjoyed their abbreviated work week and have a fabulous Friday-eve day.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Clog in the Brain Drain

By most accounts, the first half of the 1940s was an exciting time to be living in the rural “neighborhood” in which I (and my father before me) grew up. There was, of course, anxiety throughout the country about the war, but it was also hard to ignore how much of a boon World War II had been to farmers. At the same time, the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 was enabling sparsely populated areas such as this to get “on the grid.”

Electricity is today so much a part of our daily existence that I know I, for one, completely take it for granted. It was new enough then, though, that the wonder of such things as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, electric lights, and more was certainly not lost on country people who had almost literally been given what we always seem to be wishing for: more hours in the day. While electricity was making the land more able to support greater production by providing power to large irrigation wells, it was simultaneously giving farm wives and children something novel to them. Farm life was still hard, but household and farmyard chores that had previously required hours of drudgery to complete were now often a matter of minutes. For many of these people, this allowed more leisure time than they had probably ever had before.

In our neck of the woods, people responded to this extra free time in a uniquely American way: they built a baseball field. There were enough children and young people nearby to make games possible, and enough neighbors cared enough about the project to bring it to fruition. One land owner donated a few acres of flat ground in the corner of an otherwise very hilly pasture, and gradually fences, bleachers, and even lights were erected. In the 1970s (around the time my dad was entering high school), a nice metal building was put up that would double as a community center and concession stand - complete with a hood and grill that would allow parents to serve up some of the best hamburgers I ever tasted. A playground was built to entertain the kids who weren’t out on baseball field. My siblings, cousins, and I all have very vivid memories of times playing there.

Gradually, however, something started to change at the ballpark. By the time I was old enough to be on a baseball team in the mid 1980s, some of the original families who had helped establish the area (and the ballpark) had nearly died out or moved completely away. My extended family seemed to have large families for the time, but these families of 2 to 5 children were small compared to what their parents had raised. Contraception had become as widely available here as virtually anywhere else in the country, and the mentality had changed from “having more children around will help us get all of the necessary work done” to “we can’t afford to have any more children.” The teams I played on already had to bring in a few “ringers” from town to fill out the roster; my brother, nine years my junior, played during some of the last years that a team could be fielded.

In the first few years of the 21st Century, there were almost no members of my generation in the surrounding area and certainly not enough children for a baseball team (even now, after a few more of us have returned to the neighborhood, we could probably only come up with half a baseball roster - and it would have to be co-ed). Just about 60 years after the ballpark was built, the fences and lights were sold off, the outfield planted with NRCS-approved windbreaks, and the old “pop stand” hauled off to serve as a storage building on the corner of a cornfield. The concession stand continued to serve as a community center, but it has since become unusable due to burst pipes during this past winter (it is currently in a purgatory of contractors bidding and the neighbors trying to decide what to do with it). And the playground has fallen into disrepair, with a tree growing up around the bottom of the slide.

The same pattern of aging, shrinking communities is repeating itself throughout rural America. This is documented a book published this year by husband-and-wife sociologists Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas, entitled Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America. A few weeks ago I came across an article in The Rural Sociologist called, simply, “The Rural Brain Drain,” in which Carr and Kefalas outline their book.

The authors start by recounting the grim statistics: in little more than 20 years, more than 700 rural counties lost 10 percent or more of their population. About half of all rural counties in the United States have more annual deaths than births. Perhaps worst of all, the out-migration of young people - especially most of the college-educated “best and brightest” - from rural to urban areas has “reached a tipping point,” with consequences that “are more severe now than ever before.” To study the reasons for this phenomenon, Carr and Kefalas spent a year and a half living in a northeastern Iowa town of 2,000 people, interviewing more than 200 young graduates of the local high school (both those who had left and those still living in town).

By their reckoning, the 20 and 30-somethings the authors met fell into four general groups (with some overlap between them). “Stayers” were generally under-achieving students who often came from less affluent families and went on to fill blue-collar jobs in the community. “Achievers” were most of the kids who went on to college, very few of whom came back to town. “Seekers” were similar in background to the stayers, but wanted to see the world - often by joining the military. And “returners” were those young people who (obviously) returned to town after some time away. About 30 percent of the people the authors interviewed were returners, but only a very small number of them were the highly educated, professional returners they call “high fliers.”

Their interviews with these various categories of young people led Carr and Kefalas to the two-pronged thesis of their book, which they state in their Rural Sociologist article by writing:

What surprised us most was that adults in the community were playing a pivotal part in the town’s decline by pushing the best and brightest young people to leave, and by underinvesting in those who chose to stay, even though it was the latter that were the towns’ [sic] best chance for a future.
Now, most of you who grew up in towns like the one Carr and Kefalas visited would not have been “surprised” the way they were by the first half of that statement. I spent quite a bit of time during high school feeling pretty schizophrenic because of the mixed messages I was being given: so much of my identity was wrapped up in being from my hometown, I had been taught to love my hometown, but I was fully expected to get the heck out of dodge and only return for holidays (if I knew what was good for me).

The parents and teachers the authors met weren’t surprised by this paradox, either. At one point, Carr and Kefalas dropped what they seem to have thought was a bombshell that it took outsiders to see on the principal, telling him the school was systematically encouraging what were potentially the town’s best civic leaders to leave for good. Their response was essentially a shrug and a “that’s what we’re supposed to do” kind of statement.

The part of their statement about stayers being the best chance for a future for these towns is something to think about, though. The authors discuss how, after spending so much time and energy getting achievers ready to leave, many small towns are focusing primarily on getting high-fliers to come back as a way to rejuvenate their communities. However, very few of these programs seem to have had much success (which stands to reason, as there just aren’t that many of the white-collar jobs these young people have been encouraged to do in most small towns). What these towns should be focusing on more, the authors say, is working with what they have: spending more time when future-stayers are in school on helping them improve their own lots, and the corollary of helping young adult stayers become stronger leaders in their communities.

Carr and Kefalas don’t have everything right: a year and a half doesn’t seem to have been enough for them to really “get” small-town people; as well-intentioned as they are, they still seem condescending about their subjects (referring snidely in the book’s introduction about the gun cases in many living rooms, for example); they try too hard to draw parallels (and moral equivalents) between urban and rural problems; they seem to blithely accept that the way the film Food, Inc. portrays current - and ideal - agricultural practices is accurate and unbiased. They look to government (including the Obama administration’s stimulus fund) for too many of their solutions. And, as far as I can tell, they never address the impact wider acceptance and availability of contraception had on the demographics of rural America, but rather toss around terms like “corporatization of agriculture” and “globalization” as reasons for the problem’s compounding impact. Bill Kauffman, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says of one of the authors’ claims about interactions between economic classes, “[it] is so howlingly inaccurate that only displaced urban academics could believe it.”

But I think their two basic points are correct. First, by defining success as moving away, people in small towns impose a certain exile on high-achieving young people; conversely, if moving away is success, then staying is failure… and young adults who stay are often looked upon as failures for doing so. Second, while it would be nice (and it’s worth pursuing, to some extent) to get those young people who have left to come back, it is absolutely vital for rural communities to focus more on maximizing the potential of those who stay.

Some of the ideas Carr and Kefalas have for placing greater emphasis on the needs of stayers are laid out in an essay they wrote for the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business magazine:

Matching students not headed for university with appropriate vocational or community college programs and nurturing their interests through internships and training will prepare them for new, developing economic opportunities. Such partnerships require close collaboration among business and civic leaders, elected officials, and secondary school and community college administrators. Business leaders and educators should partner to counsel younger workers—those not headed to four-year colleges—to cultivate the right skills and interests to meet the new demands for labor in their region. That partnership will need to develop pathways for the next generation to pursue opportunities that may have only come into existence in the last five years, such as in medical technology, wind energy, or sustainable agriculture.
Again quoting Bill Kauffman in The Wall Street Journal, this “language of policy (‘invest more efficiently’) is inadequate to what is really a crisis of the soul.” But, however people smarter than I figure out how to do it, the “stayers” must be nurtured. They are small towns’ future, for better or worse. Their hometowns can make it “better” by raising the expectations we have for them. If we treat them like leaders, they will take on leadership roles. If we expect them to be losers, we will get exactly what we expect (and deserve). Not all of the “brains” have been drained out of our communities; we just need to learn to value the ones we still have.

Wednesday Roundup

Well, the good news is that we all made it back safely from our whirlwind trip; the bad news is that I am still working on my upcoming post. Like the exchange students along with us, I wasn't quite able to finish my "homework." If you look carefully at today's roundup, though, you may get an idea of what I've been reading up on.

The Daily Yonder has some fairly interesting analysis of a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment in rural areas. Using the author's somewhat tounge-in-cheek nomenclature, most of the Great Plains falls into the "What Recession?" category of low unemployment. What the post fails to mention is that much of the area has seen a steady population decline (as I discussed here), so there are fewer people to do at least the same amount of work. And only people in my family (including myself) seem to be crazy enough to move back out here without a job lined up in advance. Still, the unemployment levels look much better here than what they have in much of the South, where many counties are saying, "What Recovery?" instead.

According to The Dallas Morning News, the problem of high unemployment is contributing to excellent results for military recruiters - particularly in rural areas of the South. The article quotes the Department of Defense's data, saying "Southern states account for 36 percent of the nation's young adults... but provide 41 percent of the nation's recruits."

If some of those rural recruits would like to get into farming when their service has ended, they may be able to get some assistance, according to DTN/The Progressive Farmer. The University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) has a relatively new program - available to young veterans from anywhere in the country - called "Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots." A major goal of the program is to help revitalize rural areas by "send[ing] students back to the farm as owners instead of as hired hands."

Other young people may want to stay involved in agriculture, but may not be able or willing to directly work on the family farms many of them hail from. Another DTN article reports that these types of jobs are actually going through something of a boom, with a high demand in the industry for young adults with a practical familiarity with farming. One drawback to this is that, while the jobs may be related to agriculture, more often than not they are not in the small, rural communities that would be grateful to see their young people return.

The people replacing some of those young people, according to a Wall Street Journal blog could be... lawyers. A blogger on the legal profession named Eric Cooperstein is cited as encouraging lawyers to consider moving to the country, writing (among other things), "The folk in small towns sometimes get divorced, commit the occasional DWI, and get in car accidents. They need local lawyers and they do not want to pay for some lawyer from the city to drive out to the rural courthouse to represent them."
With that in mind, let me leave you with this thought from Will Rogers (with a wink toward my attorney friends): "Make crime pay. Become a lawyer."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Roundup

Happy Tuesday, all!  We'll kick off today's roundup with a little international flavor...

The European Union's budget chief, Janusz Lewandowski, has started a bit of a firestorm over comments in preparation for a review of farm subsidies in the EU.  In addition to seeking cuts, he wants to reduce or eliminate rebates to nations that don't receive as much subsidy allocation, such as Britain.  Countries in a united economic bloc, with different geographies and different labor markets, trying to figure out how to agree on agricultural subsidies?  Pass me the popcorn, because this stands to get interesting. 

Flooding that has destroyed this year's crops in Pakistan stands to do the same to next year's wheat crop as well.  According to the AP (via MSNBC), some areas are still underwater, and even if the floods hadn't taken away or destroyed the seed for next year, the ground wouldn't be ready for the fast-approaching Pakistani planting season.  Yes, that's even more troubles for the international wheat market.

Back on US soil, estimates on the corn crop are still uncertain, according to AgriNews online, which, coupled with high demand, are causing some unsteadiness in the prices of the commodity.  In the meantime, with the recent egg recalls, egg farms in Connecticut are experiencing increased interest in folks looking to buy their eggs.  Sure, there is a "local food" aspect to this, as the Fairfield Patch notes, but it seems pretty cut-and-dried to me: A reduction in supply, no matter how it's achieved, is going to result in better prices on the remaining supply, provided demand remains the same.  The story mentions increased demand, of course, but it's not the demand that's increasing - it's just moving to a new supply.

Finally, Indiana Biofuels has an interesting video describing the process by which ethanol fuel is made.  It's entertaining AND informative!  (Also, it kind of makes me want to get back to home-brewing beer, for some reason.)

Have a great day, everyone!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday Roundup

Greetings Rural Republic goers and happy Labor day! I hope y'all are enjoying the extra long weekend. Here's a little back ground to the holiday that people have come to see as the signal that Summer has ended and that Fall in all its glory, Football, harvest and post season Baseball, is upon us. Growing up in rural America on a farm, all I can basically recall is that it was just another day with work to be done. So we celebrated our holiday by, you guessed it, laboring! Now to the stories of the day...

As harvest rolls on across the fruited plains, a new yield report has been released by Informa. The new yields could have a substantial impact on grain prices. It also leads nicely into the next story.

As the world watches commodity prices climb the UN has called a meeting over the looming concerns that food prices will rise. The impact of the Russian export ban is still being felt along with anticipation of wheat yields from the southern hemisphere.

The quality and safety of our food is a major concern to us all. The latest egg recall illustrates just how delicate this balance can be. We charge todays farmers and ranchers to provide us with safe, quality staples and usually never give it a second thought. Recently the FDA has developed new guidelines for the judicious use of medically important antibiotics used in the raising of livestock. The Competitive Enterprise Institute illustrates how detrimental the new guidelines would be to meat production in this country. So as you grill up that burger today, remember to thank a rancher for supplying you with such a safe, quality and inexpensive product.

I hope y'all are enjoying the last of the extended weekend. I wish you the best of it with BBQ's, a little R&R and good times with friends and family. Thanks for joining us.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weekend Roundup and Farmer Rig of the Week

Well, it's Labor Day weekend, but more importantly, this weekend marks the return of football season.  Part of the rural mentality is its tendency toward local patriotism, and to me, that's best represented by the attachment people have to their local teams, and the intensity of the "friendly" rivalries between schools and states. 

Speaking of local preference, Business Week has a story on the results of a study regarding a program in South Carolina supporting "SC Grown" labels of origin.  The study suggests that the program could create as many as 10,000 jobs per year.  While I'm skeptical of a number that large, it certainly doesn't hurt the sales of products.  Such programs are growing nationwide, spurred on by the conjunction of the "local food" movement and economic interests.  While I don't necessarily entirely agree with "local food," that such labels support agriculture is undeniable.  It might even bring people a step or two closer to their food; when they can recognize where their steak or vegetables came from, they might even have to recognize that they came from a farm.  And that's a good thing.

More on highway funding.  Bloomberg reports that highway funding does more to support rural transportation than urban transportation.  That's not surprising, given two obvious factors: The first being that the cost of living to support construction crews is often lower in rural areas than in urban ones, and the second being that in rural areas, diverting traffic is a matter of adding a little width to the road, while in urban areas, it could be a function of closing down and diverting multiple major arteries to repair one overpass.  It's good to consider, however, when you're looking at transportation funding numbers.

WANE-TV in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, is reporting that farm incomes in that state are likely to increase this year as much as 20%.  This is expected as a result of normal economic factors, such as lower costs of fuel, fertilizer, and other consumables, in addition to the fact that China is buying US corn for the first time in 15 years.  While global trade has its disadvantages in an industry where the cost of labor plays such a major role in price, it has its advantages in opening markets and expanding the number of consumers, as well. 

Finally, every week, I want to add a new segment to the weekend roundup, highlighting the ingenuity and resourcefulness of farmers everywhere.  I call it the Farmer-Rig of the Week.

Photo by Sky News
We've got two entries, though neither are pure farmer-rigs.  First is an AP story on retro-fitting rollcages and seatbelts in older tractors to increase farm safety.  I'd say not being crushed by a few tons of tractor is a good thing.  Second is the tale of The Police Tractor.  From Sky News, police in Lincolnshire, England have created a police tractor.  They won't be engaged in any high-speed chases, or hunting down criminal cow-tippers, however.  The idea is to go around to local rural gatherings, and use the tractor to display their interest in fighting rural crime.  I'm not sure how effective that will be in actually fighting crime, but it's a pretty cool rig, if you ask me. 

Have a great weekend, everyone!  If you're traveling, drive safely!  Have fun rooting for your teams!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Roundup

As Lewis Carroll once wrote, "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" I'm chortling in my joy this morning, as my wife and I, our two kids, my mom, and two exchange students are getting ready to roll for a quick pre-harvest trip to the Black Hills. Fear not, though: I've still got your daily roundup right here. And hopefully -hopefully - I'll have another, more substantial post ready before my next scheduled roundup on Wednesday. I'm a-gonna try, anyway.

Nick has been doing a great job keeping us up to date on the drought in Russia and its effect on the wheat market here. Now, Bloomberg has a report that Russia has extended its ban on exports of wheat and flour "at least until next year's crop is harvested." Expect wheat (and food) prices to rise this year in response.

Another story Nick shared with us involved a meeting in Ft. Collins, CO with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, dealing with proposed regulations for contracting between cattle packers and feeders. At times, the discussion broke down into a virtual shouting match between supporters of the new rule - largely coordinated by an organization called R-CALF USA - and opponents. In the aftermath, five (five!) U.S. senators have written a letter to Vilsack expressing their concern about "questionable" tactics employed by R-CALF USA leading up to the meeting.

Speaking of Tom Vilsack, he took some heat this week for comments attributed to him in an article I referenced last Friday, indicating that "traditional" farm subsidy programs may be sacrificed to some extent in order to finance more creative projects like expanding broadband access. Now, Vilsack is disputing the details of the story and saying he was not quoted accurately. Brownfield's account says, though, that "the article aside, Vilsack’s USDA has been criticized by some for putting too much emphasis on rural development programs, and organic and so-called 'local food' initiatives, and not enough on traditional farming."

Finally, could farm kids really be the height of fashion? AOL says the founders of the Farm Boy & Girl clothing company are betting that they are. Dan Adamson and Brian Goldenman first marketed their clothing line at the Minnesota State Fair in 2002, and have since expanded the idea into a $2.5 million company. The AOL reporter did not mention whether the clothes are equipped with farm-scented scratch and sniff, however.

I hope you all have a good weekend (and enjoy an extra day off, maybe). As for me, I'm off to go look at some dead presidents carved into a mountain. See ya next week!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday Roundup

Greetings fellow blog goers! It is Thursday and only one more workday remains between you and a nice, long three-day weekend. But first, here's what is happening today.

This story saddens me. Growing up rural, each and every year I would look forward to the county fair. Animals, parades, questionable carnival rides and time spent with friends hiding out in the equipment on display were all apart of the excitement. But I'm afraid one fair tradition has come to an end. After 160 years the Michigan State Fair has been cancelled.

Speaking of fairs, the Colorado State Fair is underway in Pueblo, CO. Recently the it held the Colorado's Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Junior Livestock Sale which netted about $360,000 for youth. Check out how much the Grand Champion Beef went for.

The combines are rolling through the fields in the Corn Belt. Brett reported on this yesterday that harvest is ahead of schedule but is sooner always better? Doesn't seem so as yield reports are coming in lower than expected. I would sure hate to try marketing crops right now!

I touched on this possibility in Drought Sparks Wheat Prices Ablaze and it looks like we are at the start. It is thought that because of the drought in Russia the grain handling infrastructure would come under stress as soybean and corn harvest came under way. It is becoming apparent that this could hold true. The Gulf terminals, from where most corn is exported, are filling rapidly with corn. And we could see more stress on this infrastructure as demand for US wheat could rise as Argentinean and Russian wheat crops are hurt by drought.

That is all for today. I hope y'all have a good rest of the week and enjoy your three day weekend. I know I will. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bonus Wednesday Roundup

Welcome to hump day! If you're reading this after noon, you're on the downward slope - so you can coast for a few minutes and read this roundup. If it isn't noon yet, well, go ahead and read it anyway. You can bust your "hump" to make up the time later.

First up today, a slightly offbeat story in the wake of the egg recall: the Dalai Lama issued a statement last week that, according to P.J. Huffstutter of the Los Angeles Times, "(ever so nicely) lambastes egg farmers in commercial agriculture and advocates that consumers switch to cage-free eggs." Veterinarian (and subcommittee chair with the National Academy of Science) Craig Reed, however, says neither the size of the egg farms involved nor their use of cages made them any more prone to salmonella outbreaks. In fact, Dr. Reed told Feedstuffs magazine that a lot more is "left to chance" in cage-free environments where hens are likely to eat one another's droppings and lay eggs in unsanitary locations.

In the political arena, The Daily Yonder is reporting that nearly two thirds of the House districts identified as "most likely to switch their party leadership" are in rural areas. Of these 64 house districts, 55 are currently held by Democrats. A gain of 39 seats or more would hand control of the House of Representatives to the GOP, which means rural America quite literally has the ability to reshape the political landscape this fall. And, as the authors put it, "The rurals are politically restless."

While rural areas may be politically restless, economically they may be better off than many other areas of the country. The McPherson (Kansas) Sentinal headlines a story, "Reports show encouraging growth in rural economy." Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is quoted saying, “As they have time and time again, American farmers and ranchers are stayed resilient and working to support a foundation of economic prosperity for the rest of the nation.” Urban Lehner of DTN has some interesting thoughts about this divergence between the rural economy and that of the nation as a whole here.

Finally, Successful Farming's site is reporting that corn harvest is ahead of schedule this year throughout much of the country, with 17% of the corn crop ready to harvest - "6% ahead of the previous average, and 12% above a year ago." Corn farmers aren't the only ones harvesting crops, though: CNET reported this week that Facebook's Farmville game now has 63 million active users per month, each spending an average of 15 minutes a day virtually farming. According to the EPA, there are fewer than 2 million people in the United States who list farming (for real) as either a primary or secondary occupation. Just some (virtual) food for thought.