Wednesday Roundup: On the Rural Economy

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The President’s “rural tour” has spurred several examinations of the rural economy. One comes this morning from the National Journal, where reporters Jim Tankersley and Catherine Hollander ask in a headline, “Farm States Planting Seeds of National Recovering?” 

President Obama is touring an area with exceptionally low unemployment rates, which leads the reporters to note that the president is “promising more help to residents who haven’t seen times this hard in a while – but who still wake up every morning to a brighter job situation than most of the country.”

The reporters talk to analysts who see good and mediocre in the President’s proposals: 

Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, praised the White House’s strategy. “This is the first time that a president has committed to thinking about rural-policy dynamics … that cross sectors,” Fluharty said. “We’ve had far too many programs without a vision or an outcome, without any alignment” with other federal agencies, he said.

Other analysts are more skeptical. “The secretary of Agriculture has had the responsibility to coordinate rural policy for decades,” said Maureen Kilkenny, a senior fellow at the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy, in an e-mail interview. “Same menu, new name?”

Jason Clayworth, in the Des Moines Register, has a good rundown of what the President has been saying about the rural economy: 

Obama announced a handful of initiatives Tuesday that he said would help foster rural economic growth. One would pump an additional $350 million in capital over the next five years to rural businesses, double the previous amount. He also announced plans for a $510 million, three-year investment in developing advanced biofuels.

Deficit reduction legislation passed by Congress earlier this month will cut budget increases for departments across federal government. But U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said he’s not concerned that the government’s rural development efforts will fall victim to budget cuts.

“I’m challenging my folks at USDA, ‘Look, we’re going to have less resources, how do we leverage it?’ ” he said. “We have to be creative about this.”

As an example, he said he’s working on a cooperative effort with the Council on Foundations, which could steer some of its $1 trillion in investments to rural America and help extend USDA’s investments.

Vilsack said the department will have to set priorities and make tough decisions, but added, “I think this, at least for USDA, is an opportunity for us to modernize the department and get things moving in the right direction.”

•National Public Radio picks up on the Daily Yonder’s story about the White House’s wild over-statement about the number of rural residents in the military. 

• South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard suspends a regulation so that truckers can more easily move large round bales across state lines.

Hay is short in some drought stricken states. State regs normally require drivers to get permits for oversized vehicles used to haul the bales. Gov. Daugaard suspended these regs so Dakota hay can be shipped to areas that need the feed. 

• Rachel Reynolds Luster continues to compile a list of those things that really matter to a community’s culture. Chime in here at The Art of the Rural. 

•Here’s a stinky thought. What happens when all that floodwater recedes in the Missouri River Valley? What’s it gonna smell like?

The AP ponders this great question and the answer, as you can guess, is something less than a bed of roses. 

For farmers, the problem is going to be sand. Floodwater bring along sand and the sand will cover the topsoil. Farmers will have to scrape away the sand, and remove it, before the land can be planted again. 

• The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson reports from Wainwright, Alaska, where Shell Oil is preparing to begin a huge drilling project in the Chukchi Sea. 

The area is north of the state, between the mainland and the Arctic Ocean. Shell is exploring the area and the Interior Department estimates the area contains as much as 12 billion barrels of oil that could be recovered. That is half of all current U.S. reserves.

Mufson writes about what this kind of development might mean for Alaskan Natives who live there. He reports:

But oil development could threaten the sea mammals the Inupiat people hunt for food. Several lawsuits have been filed to get government agencies to block Chukchi drilling. Alaska Natives worry that the mere noise of drilling would disrupt the feeding and migration patterns of bowhead whales, beluga, walruses and seals. The draft of a study done for Shell suggests that seismic surveys have already silenced walruses, or frightened them off to other feeding grounds.

“Our culture revolves around the ocean,” Mae Hank, an outspoken resident of Point Hope, to the south of the village of Wainwright, says tearfully. “The ocean is very sensitive.”

• The Obama administration says it plans to put $510 million over the next three years to produce biofuels for military and commercial transport. 

 

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