Wednesday Roundup: Who’s Yonder?

Wisconsin court strikes down town's attempt to monitor factory farm • House Farm Bill still lacks rural development • Rural communities caught between extremes

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that a small town’s efforts to control the effects of factory farming run counter to the state’s constitution. The case could be a precedent for several cases now before the courts aimed at regulating so-called factory farms. 

The story is that Magnolia, Wisconsin, granted a farm a permit to expand, from 1,000 cows to 2,900, but included several provisions. Magnolia was worried that the much larger farm would affect its water supply, so, for example, the town required that it be allowed to test water monthly. And Magnolia required that certain crop-rotation strategies be followed so as to reduce nitrate buildup.

The farm sued, saying Magnolia couldn’t impose tougher standards than what was required by the state. The court agreed with the farm. The AP reports:

The case has been watched by rural Midwest communities struggling to deal with the expansion of so-called factory farms. States throughout the farm belt have seen big farms get bigger as the agriculture industry continues to consolidate.

Similar cases have been filed in six other Midwestern states, but Wisconsin’s is believed to be the first to reach a state supreme court.

•A coalition of 70 organizations have sent a letter asking the House Agriculture Committee to include funding in the Farm Bill for rural development. 

Currently, the House version of the Farm Bill doesn’t have rural development funding. Since 1996, Congress has included an average of $413 million in each Farm Bill for the Rural Development title. The letter says:

Creating jobs in rural America and ensuring the success of the next generation of farmers are national priorities. The Farm Bill’s Rural Development title, which authorizes essential grants and loan programs targeted at leveraging local initiatives to spur growth and opportunity in rural areas, is critical to advancing both of these priorities….

•Politico reports that the Farm Bill “advanced steadily” in the House Ag Committee today “after the bipartisan leadership turned back conservative challenges to dairy and sugar support programs.” 

Scores of amendments remain with only 13 legislative days remaining before the August recess.

“If the House leadership fails to bring up this farm bill before the recess, they will jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation’s fragile economy,” said Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota. “Farmers need the certainty of a five-year farm bill. We cannot wait for the mess that will occur during the lame duck, and frankly, I think an extension of the current farm policy potentially creates more problems than it solves.”

Gina Knudson writes in High Country News about how rural communities are often caught between the extremes: 

The fiery rhetoric that periodically consumes rural communities in the West is smoldering again. Some environmentalists berate those of us who try to collaborate to solve contentious public-lands issues; meanwhile, conspiracy theorists spread scary stories about the U.N. subverting our government through its “Agenda 21.”

The discord has emerged in several communities dependant on natural resources –– places like Salmon, Idaho; Swan Valley, Mont.; Hayfork, Calif.; and Enterprise, Ore. But these communities have changed since the timber wars and Sagebrush Rebellions of the 1980s and ‘90s. The winner-take-all mentality of those days wasn’t especially kind to them, and in the past decades, local people have worked hard to build what Courtney White, cofounder of the Quivira Coalition, calls the “radical center.”

Or as Melanie Parker of Montana’s Swan Valley puts it, “We are not the voices of industry, and we are not the voices of environmentalism.  We represent the third way, and we are rapidly becoming the new way of doing business in the West.” Parker was asked to explain this approach to Congress in 2010, at a House Subcommittee hearing titled: “Locally Grown: Creating Rural Jobs with America’s Public Lands.”

• More signs that there’s trouble in the eastern coalfields yesterday with the bankruptcy filing by Patriot Coal Corp. 

Patriot owns mines in Kentucky and West Virginia and earlier this year idled some of its mines. 

• Pennsylvania has adopted legislation that exempts adult children of deceased farmers from paying a 4.5 percent inheritance tax. The bill also eliminates the 12 percent tax on siblings of the deceased.

Denny Ilyes, who owns Twin Pine Farms in North Codorus Township, told the York Daily Record: “This is a big victory for family farms. These little farms were forced to sell some of their land to pay inheritance tax. The land ended up going to a developer and the farming part was lost forever.”

• More reports of farmers mowing down their corn crops, leading to expectations of higher food costs. 

Drought and high temperatures have been hard and corn and soybean crops in the Midwest. On Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture slashed its prediction for corn and soybean yields, lowering corn yields by 20 bushes an acre.

The USDA said “scarce rainfall coupled with record-breaking temperatures created unfavorable growing conditions in many of the major corn-producing regions,” and added that conditions were the worst since the drought year of 1988. 

• Here we go again….. More than $215 million in customer money has been pilfered, according to a suit filed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission against Peregrine Financial and its founder, Russell Wasendorf Sr. 

Peregrine has since filed for bankruptcy and Wasendorf has attempted suicide.

The money was in segregated accounts. Peregrine specialized in agriculture, so some (or many) of those accounts could be farmers.

• There is a huge gap in how married and unmarried people view the presidential race. The National Journal reports

Unmarried voters support Obama by a 20-point margin, 54 percent to 34 percent. But married voters prefer Romney, 51 percent to 38 percent. Single women support Obama by a 2-to-1 margin, 60 percent to 31 percent. Married men back Romney, 54 percent to 35 percent.

“Although much has been made about the gender gap and how … Obama’s lead among women fuels his campaign, the marriage gap is actually larger and more telling,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “The marriage gap may be related to the different priorities and economic situations of married and single people.”

Diette Courrege notes that with the passage of the federal transportation bill last week, there was a one-year extension of a fund that supports rural schools located in counties with national forests. The money is payed by the feds to make up for reduced logging on forest land. 

“This is obviously a lifeline, but not a solution,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., in a story in the Helena Independent Record in Helena, Mont. “It is getting very, very, very difficult to fund this program, and frankly the local governments are frustrated at the sort of yo-yo effect they have to go through depending on direct payments from Congress.”

• A federal agency reported yesterday that the “most expensive oil pipeline spill in U.S. history could have been prevented if the pipeline operator had repaired known defects on the line,” report Lisa Song and Elizabeth McGowan of InsideClimate News. 

The accident took place two years ago, when a pipelined owned by a Candadian firm, Enbridge, Inc., broke and spilled more than one million gallons of crude oil from Canadian tar sands into the Kalamazoo River. Cleanup of the river continues; so far costs have reached more than $800 million.

Song and McGowan have written extensively on this spill. You can find their articles here

“This investigation identified a complete breakdown of safety at Enbridge,” Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said during Tuesday’s National Transportation Safety Board meeting. “Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured and continued to pump crude into the environment. Despite multiple alarms and a loss of pressure in the pipeline…they failed to follow their own shutdown procedures.”

• Monsanto and DuPont are slugging it out in a huge ($1.5 billion) patent suit. Monsanto is accusing DuPoint  and its seed division, Pioneer, of using Monsanto soybean seed technology without getting permission. 

The trial is ongoing in a federal court in St. Louis.

• It turns out that everybody running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri has had overdue tax bills

 

 

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