Wednesday, April 16, 2014

04/08/2014 at 12:29pm

Photo by Shannon Stapleton / Reuters A natural gas flare outside of Williston, North Dakota.

Energy producers in the Bakken shale formation of North Dakota are wasting about a third of the natural gas they extract from the ground each day, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. That’s up 100 percent from 2012.

Producers "flare" or burn off the gas -- amounting to a loss of $1.4 million worth of gas each day.

Flaring is a symptom of a lack of infrastructure, the story says. Most of the flared gas comes from wells without pipelines, the rest from wells with pipelines too small to handle the volume.

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USA Today reports on a new type of ATM being rolled out in small towns. It’s a money machine with a screen that allows users to interact with a live teller, who can be located miles away. Manufacturer NCR Corp. sees them as a way to save money for rural banks by decreasing the need for behind-the-counter tellers.

"The ATM on steroids and the ramping up of remote services is really important," said Jim Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers Association. "The main thing about the video tellers is that you still have a face-to-face connection without the expense of having someone that's just serving a single branch. It's a more efficient way to handle walk-in traffic in areas where it's less intense."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The tellers in our bank in Norris, Tennessee, share news, weather and even give our dog a treat when we go through the drive-through. They live in the area and raise families here. NCR and the Bankers Association didn't comment on this aspect of their machine. But we know our dog, for one, would hate it.

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04/07/2014 at 10:32pm

 

Migration patterns – rather than birth or death rates – are driving the historic population loss that has occurred in nonmetropolitan counties over the past three years, according to analysis from the USDA Economic Research Service.

That means the three-year population-loss trend may be because of the economic downturn, rather than a long-term structural change in nonmetro population patterns.

The story is in the ERS chart above.

The black line shows the total rate of population change in nonmetro counties since 1976. The black population-change line has a pretty robust cycle to it, rising and falling in three distinct patterns over the last 35 years.

At the extreme right of the chart, the black line dips below zero. That’s when nonmetro counties started losing population – in 2011.

Notice how the green line – “net migration” – parallels the rise and fall of the black line precisely. The green line measures the population change that results from people moving in and out of nonmetropolitan counties.

The red line – “natural increase” – is on a path of its own. It’s declining slowly over time with no rapid changes. This line shows the population change that is the result of births and deaths, as opposed to migration.

04/07/2014 at 6:12am

U.S. Census/Daily YonderClick the map to make it interactive an explore county-level popuulation data.

If you’re looking for evidence of North Dakota’s oil and gas boom, take a look at the top 25 fastest-growing nonmetro counties in the United States in the list below.

The top six are in North Dakota. And the state has another four a little farther down the list, giving North Dakota a total of 10 counties in the top 25.

Above is an interactive map that displays population change from 2010 to 2013 as a percentage of population. Green counties gained; purple counties lost. (We had an incorrect version of this map up last week for a short time -- this one should work much better.)

North Dakota is dominated by the dark green counties at the top, center of the nation.

Below is a list of nonmetro counties that gained the most population as expressed as percentage growth from 2010 to 2013.

At the top of the heap is McKenzie County, North Dakota, where the population surged 46% in recent years, to reach 9,300 residents in 2013.

The smallest county on the top 25 fastest growing is Loving County, Texas (No. 7), where just 13 new residents resulted in a climb of 16%.

Source: U.S. Census

04/04/2014 at 4:23am
This map shows post offices that are scheduled to have their hours reduced between now and the end of September. The changes could affect the jobs of about 3,300 postmasters, SavethePostOffice reports.

More than 3,000 postmasters could lose their full-time jobs at the end of September when the U.S. Postal Service is scheduled to enact sweeping changes in how local post offices are operated and staffed.

That’s according to the website SavethePostOffice.com, which follows postal policy, paying special attention to the POStPlan, which is reducing post office hours and replacing full-time postmasters with part-time employees.

The exact number of postmaster reductions will depend on existing vacancies.

 “By October, the institution of the small-town career postmaster will become a thing of the past at almost half the country's post offices,” the website reports:

As best as we can figure it using USPS lists, about 8,800 post offices have had their hours reduced over the past year and a half …  For another 300 offices, a public meeting was held recently or it's scheduled soon, but no implementation date has been announced. 

That leaves around 3,900 post offices where no meeting has yet been scheduled and implementation has yet to occur.   At many of these offices, there's currently a postmaster vacancy; at others, a vacancy will open up over the coming months if the postmaster can find a new position.  If implementation continues at the current rate (about a hundred a month), some 600 of these post offices will have their hours reduced during the spring and summer. 

In the end, there will be something like 3,300 post offices where the postmaster will still be on the job as of September 30, 2014.  On that date, these postmasters will lose their full-time jobs as part of a Reduction in Force — i.e., they will be RIF’d.

SavethePostOffice has several lists and maps that allow users to explore how the changes might affect their local branch of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s worth a look.

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Michigan’s farmers and other rural businesses need broadband to compete in the marketplace, says the president of the state Agribusiness Association.

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A majority of Wisconsin rural school districts that had tax increases on the ballot Tuesday came away with voter approval to raise more public money for local education. Twenty rural districts had tax proposals on the ballot this week, ranging from $440,000 to $27.6 million. Twelve initiatives passed; eight failed.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

Rural school districts have come under increased pressure as declining enrollment, fluctuating state aid, and increasing operational costs have combined to force districts into an uncomfortable corner – ask the community for a tax increase or face drastic budget cuts.

“It is a very difficult decision — the school is the heart and soul of the community,” said Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Rural Schools Alliance.  “And whenever you have to increase taxes it’s always a point of contention.”

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04/03/2014 at 7:06am

NY Press Message received: After meeting farmers Ben Banker and Deanna Moore, Brendan Rafferty (center) sent an Instagram message about the experience. The farmers were part of a public relations event to introduce dairy farmers to New York City in November 2013.

Commodity farmers of deep rural America are rarely mentioned in mainstream media unless there is a crisis.   Similarly, food movement writers and literature do not welcome commodity farmers into the fold of “local food.”  “Local farmers” are lovingly depicted almost to the point of rock-star status.  “Commodity farmers” of deeper rural regions seem to be viewed more with suspicion and in some cases, contempt.

Overseas, commodity farmers have used a variety of methods to gain public consideration of agriculture.  French farmers have elevated farmer protests to an art form.  Likewise for British dairy farmers who sent some 3,000 dairy farmers into London during a 2012 milk price decline. The farmers took their campaign to the public, calling it “SOS Dairy.”  British musicians composed an SOS Dairy theme song calling for “fair trade milk prices.” In the first international sharing of dairy farmer protest music that I know of, the British  musicians re-mixed the SOS Dairy song for California dairy farmers who were also staging milk price protests  in the streets of Sacramento during 2012.  (You can listen to it here.)

Plaid-jacketed farmers stroll in Times Square. In New York, we dairy farmers see ourselves as closer to the fray of urban food policy than farmers of other regions.  New York is a highly urban state where Big City politics can have a real impact on rural New York.  We still remember the late 1990’s when New York City politicians helped to break up the Northeast Dairy Compact.  This was an effort to stabilize milk prices for the dairy farmers Upstate.  New York City consumer advocates called this farmer collective bargaining effort a “milk tax on the poor” and the New York Times railed against “farmer cartels.”

The pendulum has swung the other way and New Yorkers are now seeking more food from Upstate New York.   Rural New York dairy farmers have been attempting to establish communications with the Big Apple and its urban food movement in a variety of ways.   In March of 2013, a group of Upstate dairy farmers tackled the Big Apple when dairy farmers attempted to meet food movement leaders. Our presentation at the 2013 Just Food conference covered dairy farmers of all sizes, with no farmer left behind.  We tried to give an accurate picture to New Yorkers of deep rural New York with photographs, statistics and maps.  We made many friends, especially media people with whom we have maintained contact.

A dairy farmer publicity “grand slam” took place on November 8, 2013.    Eighty-four Vermont and New York dairy farmers filled two red plaid buses, traveling into New York City for the “Cabot Farmers Gratitude Tour.”   Dressed alike in red plaid jackets, the Cabot Creamery farmers’ theme was to thank New York City consumers for their support.  Farmers were positioned in 75 retail stores where they distributed cheese samples, did in-store demos and posed for “selfies” with consumers.   Reports of “farmer hugging” and consumer enthusiasm in meeting actual dairy farmers came back with the farmers.    Before leaving town, the Cabot dairy farmers performed “55 Random Acts of Cheddar.”  Cheesey greetings were left at 55 fire houses, police departments and not-for-profits, thanking these professionals for their work.  The Cabot farmers cooperative did what has never been done:  delivered a massive influx of actual dairy farmers into New York City.

04/02/2014 at 5:55am

U.S. Census, Daily Yonder This shows the population change each year from 2010 to 2013 for nonmetropolitan counties. Micropolitan (blue -- nonmetro counties with small cities) saw slight increases in population, while noncore counties (red -- nonmetro counties with no cities greater than 25,000 in population) had decreases. The net effect (green) for nonmetro counties was a slight population loss in each of those years.

NOTE: We had trouble wth data in the map originally published with this story. We've substituted this chart until we get things sorted out. Were sorry for the error.

For the third year in a row, nonmetropolitan counties saw their population decline, according to 2013 population estimates released recently by the U.S. Census.

Counties that are outside metropolitan areas saw the number of residents drop by about 28,000 from 2012 to 2013, according to Census figures. 

It’s a tiny drop as a percentage of the overall rural population. But it continues a pattern that occurred the last three years.

The population loss occurred entirely in the nation’s least populated counties – “noncore” counties, which have no cities larger than 25,000 residents. In those small counties, the cumulative population dropped by 36,000 from 2012-2013, Census data show. 

Nonmetro counties with small cities (called micropolitan counties) gained about 8,000 residents during the same period.

04/01/2014 at 9:37am
FCCThe map from the Federal Communications Commission shows the funding each state has received from the Connect America Fund, which is supposed to help telecommunications companies defray the cost of reaching hard-to-serve areas. AT&T and Verizon are giving back a total of $67.5 million because they don’t think it serves their corporate interests. Click on a state to see the amount and type of funding provided.

Sprint is teaming up with a telecom cooperative to offer higher-speed wireless broadband in rural areas, reports Scott M. Fulton III in Fierce Enterprise Communications. Sprint will provide spectrum for 4G LTE service in rural markets. The cooperative, NetAmerica Alliance, will sell the service via its individual Internet provider members around the country. NetAmerica currently offers broadband service via a product called Bonfire.

The new plan is called the Small Market Alliance for Rural Transformation (SMART).

Fulton relates the new partnership to AT&T and Verizon’s decision to pull back from rural areas. The two telecommunication giants are returning Connect America funds instead of following through on their commitments to use the money to serve hard-to-reach areas, the Motley Fool reports. AT&T will give back $47.8 million and Verizon will return $19.7.

The gap in service – the bane of many rural households that have a tough time getting a good broadband connection – is seen as a market opportunity by Verizon and NetAmerica, Fulton reports.

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The prevalence of opiate drug abuse in rural Ohio combined with a lack of drug treatment centers is a deadly combination, reports the Dayton Daily News. Rural Preble County in southwest Ohio has the second highest drug-death rate in the state (second to Dayton’s Montgomery County). But Preble has far fewer resources for treating drug addiction. The obstacles to treatment in rural areas include …

… greater travel distances, a lack of public transportation and limited resources in their local areas, said Jay Meyer, a recovering addict and member of the Miami County Recovery Council, an outpatient counseling agency in Troy.

“There’s nothing out here,” Meyer said. “We have access to a handful of inpatient beds at (Nova Behavioral Health substance abuse treatment center in Dayton), but that’s not nearly enough to handle the need. Having a safe place to detox was critical in my situation, but a lot of people don’t have that.”