The USDA is 150 years old today • More 'pink slime' layoffs • Beware sleepy oil field drivers • The failing coal industry
Happy birthday, USDA.
Chris Clayton writes here on the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. President Lincoln signed the legislation creating the USDA May 15, 1862 — that’s right, 150 years ago today.
At the time, 90 percent of Americans were connected to farming. A proposal to create a department of agriculture had been kicked around Congress throughout the 1850s, but never passed. (The legislature was gridlocked over slavery.) In addition to this bill, Lincoln signed the Homestead Act and the Morrill Land-Grant Act, which created the nation’s system of colleges emphasizing agriculture and the mechanical arts.
President Obama issued a proclamation, saying in part:
The USDA has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the American people for generations. During the Great Depression, the Department helped bring an end to the Dust Bowl by promoting soil conservation. Through two World Wars, the Victory Garden Program fed troops and families around the world. The USDA worked to bring electric power to rural communities, establish the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and School Lunch Programs, implement our Nation’s food safety regulations, and protect our forests and private lands. For one-and-a-half centuries, USDA has empowered communities across our country and helped ensure we leave our children a future rich with promise and possibility.
• Western states are rumbling.
The Utah and Arizona legislatures recently passed legislation that demanded that the federal government return control of millions of acres of federal lands to the states.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill in March, but Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed her state’s version on Monday.
Not that this was really going to happen, but Brewer thought it a poor idea.
“I am concerned about the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands,” Brewer said in a statement. “Given the difficult economic times, I do not believe this is the time to add to that uncertainty.”
• There are more “pink slime” layoffs. Beef Products Inc is laying off 86 workers at its corporate headquarters in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.
These follow layoffs of 650 at plants in Garden City, Kansas, Amarillo, Texas, and Waterloo, Iowa, last week.
BPI sold a lot of burger with “lean finely textured” beef. Since this stuff was labeled “pink slime,” demand for the product has plummeted.
• Diette Courrege reports on a poll of people who led non-profit efforts to increase college-going rates in rural Appalachian areas. They were asked what worked to get more kids to go to college.
Two things stood out: Visits to college campuses and workshops to prepare for ACTs.
• North Dakota passed Alaska to become the second-leading oil-producing state. Texas, of course, is first.
• Maybe the most dangerous part of increased oil and gas production is having scores of sleepless truck drivers veering across the countryside.
The New York Times’ Ian Urbina reports that exemptions for oil and gas drillers allow truck drivers to operate with only a minimum of rest. Over the past decade, more than 300 oil and gas workers have been killed in highway crashes.
• A report from Morningstar has those analysts “becoming more nervous that leveraged coal firms may fall into distress in the next two or three years.”
“We expect Central Appalachian miners will face tremendous headwinds for at least the next two years,” Morningstar analyst Michael Tian writes. Gas prices are down and utilities are switching to gas from coal. Prices for coal have also plunged. It’s now a money-losing product and “will be barely profitable a few years hence.”