Saturday, April 18, 2015

04/01/2015 at 9:47pm

Patrick Moore, a proponent of GMO crops and a climate-change skeptic, tells a French television journalist that glyphosate weed killer is safe to drink, then refuses to drink it. The argument grew out of a discussion of whether glyphosate causes cancer. A World Health Organization panel says it is “probably carcinogenic.” Monsanto, the manufacturer of the chemical under the brand name Roundup, says the WHO analysis is false.

A neighbor stopped by the other day.

He and I are about the same age, both of us christened in the church at Langdon on the same day in 1950. We talked about Medicare and collecting Social Security, farming, and then the conversation turned to our dads. His dad lived longer than mine, dying of a malady the doctors said would likely never kill him, while my dad likely died of something doctors warned him of for years.

Some of us have choices and some of us don’t.

Using tobacco is a choice people make just as farmers choose to grow it.

Back when Dad started smoking, puffing on a pipe or cigarette was considered glamorous ... movie stars did it. Life cycles were shorter then. People had all kinds of diseases that never killed them because something else got them first.

No one realized the health implications of smoking.

Thanks to Social Security requirements, the official age of retirement became 65. But in 1940, only 54% of 21-year-old American males lived to collect their federal stipend. 

Tobacco probably helped keep the number of Social Security recipients low. It didn’t help longevity when large tobacco companies began marketing directly to young people and manipulating nicotine levels in their products while denying there was anything addictive about tobacco.

They even testified to that before Congress.

Years have passed since the tobacco settlement, when those corporations that made ridiculous claims about addiction and nicotine finally paid for the truth. But some kids around here still place chemically refined tobacco products into the most sensitive parts of their bodies while we as a society know full well the awful price many of them will pay.

It’s become a fact proven over time.

I’ve heard it said that tobacco farmers made a lot of money when the allotment program was in effect and could sustain their families on only two or three acres. (In farming terms, making “a lot of money” means having enough to survive.) In that sense, tobacco farmers did make money. And they defended their living by pointing out that unregulated foreign grown tobacco would replace our domestic product with something that could easily contain pesticide residues or other harmful chemicals.

Maybe even before big corporations put their additives into the mix.

The allotment program has since ended, and tobacco controversies have quieted down some. It is what it is.

But chemicals and big corporations are in the news again lately because of genetically modified crops and the chemical they are treated with. That’s because the International Agency for Research (IARC) has said that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, probably causes several forms of cancer.

 Health revelations about Monsanto’s top product seemed all the worse when the subject of an interview in France claimed glyphosate was safe enough to drink, but refused to swallow some on camera. Thanks to that interview, the bar is set.

Glyphosate is not as safe as water, but modern science tells us it’s in baby formula, breakfast food, the air, and yes, even drinking water itself.  Critics of the IARC study, including Monsanto, have cried foul.

Still to be decided, though, are long-term implications of human exposure to a corporate profit center.

Speaking as a farmer who has achieved the original target age of Social Security despite his lifetime exposure to several banned pesticides, I can only conclude that some people are more at risk than others. Genes, especially human genes, are hard to predict. Take cholesterol for instance.  Latest research points out that cholesterol is not unhealthy, but becomes a good fat gone bad when circulatory systems become inflamed by chemicals, disease or environmental factors. Maybe it’s not the fat in our food or our genes, but the stuff in our food that affects fat’s behavior in our bodies.

04/01/2015 at 7:03am

Liz Graznak of Happy Hollow Farm used the Kiva Zip loan to build a new high tunnel for the farm.

“I haven’t had a paying job for the last six years,” says Liz Graznak, owner of Happy Hollow Farm, located outside of Jamestown, Missouri. “Every ounce of money that I have made, I’ve put back into the farm… According to my tax statements, the farm isn’t making enough money for a bank to give me a loan. I don’t have a weekly paycheck I can bring in and show them.  I think it would be very hard for me to get a traditional loan.”

Thanks to a relatively new loan program called Kiva Zip, Graznak had a better option.  Kiva Zip is an online platform that connects entreprenuers with its global community of lenders to provide them with zero interest loans that they repay over the course of three years. Graznak secured a $10,000 loan to construct a high-tunnel for winter growing on her farm.

Kiva Zip’s parent organization, Kiva, launched in 2005 and works internationally to connect people in poverty with a pool of money created by individual lenders who have chipped in amounts as low as $25 to make available zero-interest loans. Kiva takes no cut of the money from the lenders, nor do they charge interest to the microfinance institutions they work with.  When a lender is repaid, she can withdraw her money, or reinvest to support another person in need.

Kiva Zip is a pilot program that launched in 2011 with the same idea, but only facilitates loans to entrepreneurs in the United States and Kenya.The idea to is give business owners who might have a difficult time obtaining a loan or taking on high interest rates access to zero interest loans from their own communities and from Kiva’s network of lenders.

Prospective borrowers must solicit loans from at least fifteen people in their own personal network before their loan page is posted on the Kiva Zip page This is meant to instill accountability into the process by ensuring that the borrower has personal connections to the lenders and is motivated to follow through with repaying the loan.

Justin Renfro, a program manager at Kiva Zip, says, “We’re not looking at your credit score or cash flow or business plan.  We’re saying you have to prove that you have people within your own community who are willing to lend you $5 each, and if you can prove that you have that community and support network around you, then we’re going to show you to the world.”

03/31/2015 at 7:57am

Tyler Vacha and family.

Name: Tyler Vacha

Where I live: Lyons, Nebraska

Why I live here: After spending time in the big city, my wife and I decided we wanted our kids to grow up in a small community, Lyons is 40 minutes from my hometown, and where my great employer, the Center for Rural Affairs, is located.




Daily Yonder: Tell us who you are, and how you spend your time.
Tyler Vacha: I grew up on a farm three miles from Howells, Nebraska. We custom fed up to 900 head of hogs, had a herd of fifteen mostly registered angus cattle, and had chickens, both laying hens and broilers. Growing up I was very active in 4-H and FFA. After college, I moved to Des Moines, Iowa to work for Farm Safety for Just Kids, and experience the big city life along with many of my collegiate friends. I met my wife, Melissa there. We have two boys together, a 2 year old and a 5 month old, who take up most of our time. When I do have free time, I enjoy golfing, hunting, fishing, singing, reading and woodworking.


DY: Where do you live now?
TV: I live in a picturesque town, called Lyons, in Nebraska. Like most small towns it has a historic, brick main street, filled with classic storefronts from a by-gone era, that leave you wondering about how many and what kind of businesses the buildings have housed, and how magnificent those buildings must have looked in their prime. Trees line the streets, and even in the dead of winter, you often hear the voices of children running around outside, safe within the confines of our town.

Standing tall and full of pride, in the center of town is the quintessential rural water tower, which hosts our school colors and announces our presence to travelers on highway 77. The train tracks still run through town, and six times a day, announced by a whistle trains rumble through.

A walker’s dream, the entire town is flat, not a hill to be seen. You can easily travel by foot from anywhere in the town to our city park which features small fishing ponds, a dilapidated fountain, a plethora of children’s playground equipment and our brand new swimming pool, which will be filled for the first time this summer.


DY: How did you come to live in Lyons, Nebraska?
TV: My family and I moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Lyons about six months ago, to be closer to my job here at the Center for Rural Affairs, which I had been commuting to for about a year. My wife and I are both in our early 30’s. We’ve built a new house here in town, and plan to be here well into our golden years.

03/30/2015 at 7:32am

Ron and Rylie Melancon do some administrative work on a rainy day for their family-owned livestock business, MG Farms. The farm used Facebook to market its livestock sale in the region.

It’s good to have friends. It’s nice to be liked.

But for businesses, the name of the social-media game is to turn “likes” into clicks and clicks into customer sales. That’s especially true for rural businesses that are seeking to expand their customer base beyond a limited local market.

A Mississippi Extension Service program called “Mississippi Bricks to Clicks” is helping small businesses and community groups use applications like Facebook to raise brand awareness and create customers, both in the community and beyond.

Rural broadband access, though still lower than urban access, is improving. Another important challenge is for for local businesses and community groups to leverage their use of broadband to bring in new dollars.

The first step is creating an online brand through a website, blog or social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or some combination. The crucial second step is to connect with potential customers and engage with them to increase the likelihood of sales. On Facebook, when a potential customer wants to learn more about a business or community page, she simply clicks on a “like” button for that page. Now she becomes a fan of the page and will receive updated information when it is posted.

But often the gap between creating an online presence and creating sales can be significant, especially for a small business owner who has limited time to learn how to use online tools. Simply put, it takes more than “liking” a Facebook business page to create sales. It takes engagement with potential customers, too. Time to learn is costly for small business owners, but so is not using these online tools. If rural business owners and their communities cannot take advantage of using these types of online tools, then the economic value of having access to broadband in rural America may go largely unrealized..

Reaching Rural Places
In Mississippi, the Extension Service used some of its funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus package) to establish the entrepreneurship program called Mississippi Bricks to Clicks (B2C).

The B2C program is for all types of businesses – agriculture, retail, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, universities and colleges and others. The program has been developed and implemented in Mississippi for the past two years. Through hands-on learning, we’ve been teaching entrepreneurs and communities how to use Facebook to market businesses and events with a goal of increasing revenues.

03/27/2015 at 12:12pm

Photo by Robb Kendrick/NG/Alamy A coal seam is blasted at a mine in Wyoming.

From the “We Knew It Was Bad But Not This Bad” department, the coal industry in America may be entering a death spiral. A new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative claims the U.S. coal industry has lost 76% of its value in the last five years (emphasis mine as my head exploded). Peabody Energy, whom we know from the John Prine song and also being the world’s largest private coal company, lost 80% of its share price over the same time span. The report blames cheap and accessible shale gas and regulations for the steep decline. Not everyone is convinced that coal is dead, though.

… Chiza Vitta, a credit analyst from Standard and Poor’s, said he did not believe coal was in a terminal decline, although its share of the US electricity market would diminish somewhat in the coming years.

Vitta said the drop in share prices noted by Carbon Tracker was due to a complex series of factors, including a cyclical dip in metallurgical coal demand. He said despite the slowdown “coal will continue to be an integral part of the energy portfolio. It’s going to get a little smaller so the share price is going to fall. But there is always going to be a place for coal.”

--- Shawn Poynter


Here’s a little more on the JAMA Pediatrics study that found higher suicide rates among young adults living in rural areas between 1996 and 2010. The rural rate by 2010 had was almost double that of urban centers. Many reasons were given as possible reasons: Isolation, unemployment, mental health problems untreated due to doctor shortages. One stat that really jumps out, though, is the number of suicides committed with a gun.

More than half of the youths who killed themselves in this time period did so with a firearm, and gun suicides (though generally on the decline) were particularly common in rural areas—nearly three times more common. This may be because gun ownership is higher in rural regions. According to2014 Pew data, 51 percent of people in rural areas kept a gun at home, compared to 25 percent in urban areas, and 36 percent in the suburbs.

“Suicide is in many ways the oft-ignored part of gun tragedy in America, the part that few talk about, especially those who resist any efforts to decrease access to guns,” writes Frederick Rivara, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, in an editorial accompanying the study. He points out that 86 percent of suicide attempts using guns end in death, compared to 2 percent of attempts using drugs.

“Rural residents often grow up with guns, have guns in their homes and there’s just a general culture of guns in rural areas,” [lead author of the study Cynthia] Fontanella says. Even so, she says, suicide rates by all methods were higher in the country than in the city.


The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill this week that provides funding for rural schools and counties.

The measure, which was attached to the unrelated Medicare Access Act, will provide two years of funding for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act. One year of the funding would be retroactive.

03/26/2015 at 9:07pm

Photo by Shawn Poynter Kids of all kinds play together on a Boys and Girls Club basketball court in Washington, North Carolina.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the NCAA men’s tournament continues this week, we’re dusting off an old column by Dee Davis, publisher of the Daily Yonder. This essay originally ran on the Center for Rural Strategies website in 2002, five years before we began publishing the Yonder. Unlike Dee’s knees, we think the piece holds up pretty well.

Donald was 6’ 6”, a big 6’ 6” at that, with large hands, an open-mouth menacing look, acne scarred and a baseball cap mostly worn backwards, not that the rest of us were that damn handsome. Donald had some handicaps. Nobody said anything about it. Who would? Still you just noticed even if you were trying not to.

Donald would ride down with Otis in an old pick up truck along with this wiry high school kid who smoked cigarettes between games, and sometimes Otis’ little boy who would play in the dirt down at the other end of the court. Otis was a cockfighter back then. Guys would ask him about his chickens. Later when he got baptized he gave up on the roosters. I mainly remember Otis in spring, in suffocating summer heat, and in fall playing in work pants and a long sleeve shirt. He was spidery, and tricky in the post, but very sincere in other ways. When my friend Robert moved to town, Otis asked him, “Hey man, what’s your name?”

He answered, “Just call me Rob.”

Otis said, “Rob? I’ll never remember that. I’ll call you Red.”

I assumed that Otis and Donald were family, the way Otis looked after him, but I didn’t ask. My approach to basketball is to block out extraneous information. Think about the wrong thing, personal things, and you’ll get beat. I for one never asked about the chickens.

When it was in the paper that Donald had been run over by a truck, I was stunned. I had lost all contact years ago when he quit showing up to play. But just the week or so before it happened I was in the car heading out to Craft’s Colley to feed cats of friends who were out of town, and there he was sitting on a guard rail next to a bicycle. He waved. I didn’t realize it was him until I got past. He looked as though perhaps he had been going through a rough patch. His neck and chest were garlanded with what looked like a homemade necklace, maybe fashioned out of pop cans. And he looked smaller, much smaller, worn down someway. Still it was him, cap on backwards.

After the story came out in the paper, I found out almost everybody knew who he was because he spent his days riding his bike back and forth between Craft’s Colley and the WalMart. People said he was quick to wave and hard to miss. Those who had never even spoken to him were, just the same, hammered to learn of his death. He had a smile.

03/26/2015 at 6:56am

Headwaters Economics The chart traces the impact of various federal county-payment programs. As revenue sharing (shown in green) dropped, Congress created other programs designed to compensate counties for the decreased tax base created by public lands. Payment in Lieu of Taxes is shown in blue. Secure Rural Schools is shown in brown. Click to expand the chart.

Rural counties may get some good news this week if Congress reauthorizes funding for the Secure Rural Schools program. But in less than a year’s time, these counties will be right back where they started, arguing for their fair share of federal funding.
It’s time for Congress to create a more predictable and fair system for compensating counties that contain large amounts of federal land.
Federal public lands are exempt from local taxation, placing a hardship on rural communities that rely on property taxes to fund local services. As compensation, Congress has made payments under two programs: Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and agency-based revenue sharing payments (for example, payments via the U.S. Forest Service based on federal timber sales in a given county). In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to help make up for anemic revenue-sharing payments from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
“County payments” have been around for a century. But today counties find themselves stuck in a cycle of seeking congressional approval for payments every year. Besides initially dropping Secure Rural Schools funding for 2014, Congress only approved one year of funding for PILT.
This short-term fix approach—where Congress debates whether or not extend SRS or funds PILT for a single year —  should end. 
Since 2001 PILT has been the cornerstone of compensation payments for non-taxable federal land. This year, PILT will provide $422 million, while revenue sharing payments will provide $60 million. PILT’s full funding amount will rise to $522 next year. 
PILT’s heightened importance is increasing traction for to reauthorize and reform the program. But to work well, the system needs updates.