Roundup: GMO-Free Trend

GMO-free revival • $1 billion for land reclamation • Ag related Super Bowl ads • AOL still makes millions from dial-up • Coal business down, may stay down • FCC to fight state ISP laws

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There’s a trend of farmers in the Midwest planting more GMO-free seeds, like those that are made to be weed killer friendly, and selling them for a premium to companies who produce GMO-free foods. Despite the culture wars that have formed around food, these famers aren’t necessarily choosing foodies over feed companies.

Many Midwestern farmers who have made the switch say their motives are economic and not an embrace of the anti-GMO movement that has intensified in the U.S. in the past few years. Critics of biotech crops say more research is needed on whether foods containing GMOs are safe for consumers and argue the crops rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers that could hurt the environment. The Food and Drug Administration and many U.S. health and science groups say food made with GMOs is safe.

“We’re seeing more interest in producing for the [non-GMO] markets than we ever have,” said Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Co., a company in Cerro Gordo, Ill., that contracts with farmers to grow non-GMO crops. “The drop in [crop] prices has put many farmers in a break-even or loss situation for the 2014 crop.”

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President Obama this week included a $1 billion item for mine site reclamation and job training in his proposed budget (see a full report in today’s Daily Yonder). If passed, the money could be a boost for regions, especially Appalachia, hard-hit by declining coal jobs for the past decade.

Obama's proposal also includes an additional $20 million for programs such as job training to help laid-off miners, an extra $25 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission to help entrepreneurs in areas hit by coal-job losses, $5 million for communities affected by shut-downs at coal-fired power plants, and $97 million in grants or loans for infrastructure projects in places where changes in the coal industry are causing economic hardship, according to the White House.

Eastern Kentucky certainly fits that description.

Coal production in the region has plunged the past few years because a combination of factors, including competition from natural gas and from cheaper coal mined elsewhere in the country; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality; and the depletion of easy-to-reach reserves, which contributes to higher mining costs.

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Every year around this time there’s a buzz in the air about the ads in between the 11 minutes of actual game time played during the Super Bowl. This year, AgWeb compiled the commercials featuring agriculture, and animals. Not surprisingly, I love the ‘cat herding’ spot. 

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Back in the 1990s there were two things you couldn’t escape: Flannel shirts and promotional CDs from AOL. I could get through the first four Soundgarden tracks before my modem connected to the service. But things change and Internet speed gets better and better forever, right? Well, it turns out that AOL is A) Still in the Internet provider business and B) Still has 2.3 million dial-up customers. It’s easy for folks in metro and suburban areas to forget just how many people rely on their telephone lines, and super slow dial-up Internet, to get their news, run their businesses, and stay in touch with distant family members.

— Shawn Poynter

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A coal mine owner in West Virginia is taking stock of the Appalachian coal downturn and decided that hard times may be here to stay. Jim Bunn II, who owns part of Coal River Energy, says that coal from other regions, as well as EPA regulations, are the big reasons for the coal country pinch.

“I think it’s different this time for central Appalachia,” said Bunn. “Yes, we’re competing with gas and that has taken some of our market share for power generation, but coal production in the Illinois basin has replaced more central Appalachian coal than gas has and that will continue to be that way.”

“Power companies could pay for central Appalachian coal and not add a billion dollar piece of equipment to their power plant and still comply,” Bunn said. “Now, all coal has to be scrubbed so why buy the compliance coal when you can buy the cheaper Illinois basin coal.”

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The FCC is planning to rule on a draft decision that would fight state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevent municipalities from setting up and running Internet Service Provider services, according to the New York Times.

If approved, the FCC would find that the states have erected barriers to the timely and reasonable deployment of high-speed Internet access in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Wilson, N.C. It would effectively knock down the state laws that the cities say inhibit them from building viable competitors to the likes of Comcast and Verizon.

The draft decision targets legal hurdles that make it more difficult for city- or community-run Internet services to get off the ground. Tennessee, for example, has passed rules forbidding cities from building high-capacity networks beyond a certain geographic area. Publicly run broadband in North Carolina may not offer service at prices below what a private carrier offers. And in their petitions to the FCC filed last year, the cities point to other regulatory challenges that, they argue, tilt the playing field in favor of incumbent Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon.

 

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