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SARL Members and Alumni News

Washington Ecology seeks advisers on farm practices

Capital Press | Posted on June 29, 2017

The Washington Department of Ecology will appoint an advisory group to evaluate ways farmers and ranchers can prevent water pollution, an exercise viewed warily by the state Farm Bureau. Ecology is seeking experts for the group, which is expected over the next year to help the department develop a set of best management practices. Ecology says the measures will be voluntary and won’t become new regulations.“I think it will be useful guidance for people,” said Ben Rau, Ecology’s manager of the effort.The initiative stems from criticism the Environmental Protection Agency made in 2015 about Ecology’s plan to control pollution from urban and rural runoff. The EPA said Ecology’s plan to prevent pollution from agricultural lands needed “greater specificity.”


New best friends: GOP governors and renewables

EEnews | Posted on June 28, 2017

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is fresh off a legislative session in which he signed nine bills aimed at supporting the clean energy sector. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a tax exemption that solar installers say is essential to jump-starting the residential and commercial market in the Sunshine State. And in Iowa, where wind now accounts for 36 percent of the state's electricity generation, newly installed Gov. Kim Reynolds recently finished an energy plan that calls for growing the wind, biofuels and solar industries.in states like Iowa and Nevada, which lack a local fossil fuel industry, Republican leaders are becoming increasingly comfortable with renewables. Wind now employs more than 8,000 people in Iowa. Two utilities in the Hawkeye State announced plans last year to invest $4.6 billion in new wind farms.Reynolds follows in the footsteps of longtime Gov. Terry Branstad (R), an outspoken wind advocate during six nonconsecutive terms in Des Moines. Branstad stepped down this year to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.As lieutenant governor, Reynolds led efforts last year to complete an Iowa Energy Plan. It calls for more ambitious renewable energy targets, best practices to help municipalities site turbines and grid modernization pilot projects, among other measures.The state's wind industry has helped attract Facebook, Microsoft and Google data centers to Iowa, said Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor."In general, renewable energy has provided for local energy production, job and business growth, increases in property tax revenue, and clean energy production in our own backyard," Smith said.


MN: Young farmers score victory at Legislature

Detroit Lakes Online | Posted on June 28, 2017

A first-of-its-kind newly signed budget bill is a win-win for the future of farming in Minnesota. And it's thanks in part to Andrew Barsness, a 27-year-old grain farmer from Hoffman. Through the bill, landowners receive a state income tax credit when they sell land or rent land or agricultural assets to a beginning farmer, which is someone who has been farming for fewer than 10 years, said Barsness. According to the Young Farmer's Coalition, which was formed in 2016, the credit equals 5 percent of the sale price, 10 percent of the cash rent or 15 percent for a cash share agreement. In turn, the beginning farmer must take a farm management course to qualify for the tax incentive and would be eligible for a tax credit covering the full cost of the training. The tax credit will be available on a first-come, first-served basis with maximum statewide limit of $5 million in tax year 2018 and $6 million per year after that. Barsness said the bill, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton at the end of May, helps create an incentive to sell land. Land access is an issue for beginning farmers.


WI:Walker signs fish farm bill

Minneapolis Star Tribune | Posted on June 28, 2017

Gov. Scott Walker has signed a bill that loosens fish farm regulations. Under the Republican bill, fish farms no longer need permits to discharge material into a wetland if the wetland was created for fish farming. Natural water bodies can serve as fish farms and farms wouldn't need permits to construct or enlarge artificial water bodies connected to a navigable waterway. New permit conditions will be prohibited unless needed to meet water quality standards.


GA: Senator Lucas to lead rural work group committee

Macon Telegraph | Posted on June 28, 2017

State Sen. David Lucas has been named chairman of a committee tasked with improving rural Georgia. The political veteran will guide the meetings for the Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee that begin this summer. The committee deals with similar issues as a House Rural Development Council that will create policy ideas on issues such as health care and education in rural communities.


Republicans' Proposed Medicaid Cuts Would Hit Rural Patients Hard

NPR | Posted on June 26, 2017

For the hundreds of rural U.S. hospitals struggling to stay in business, health policy decisions made in Washington, D.C., this summer could make survival a lot tougher. Since 2010, at least 79 rural hospitals have closed across the country, and nearly 700 more are at risk of closing. These hospitals serve a largely older, poorer and sicker population than most hospitals, making them particularly vulnerable to changes made to Medicaid funding."A lot of hospitals like [ours] could get hurt," says Kerry Noble, CEO of Pemiscot Memorial Health Systems, which runs the public hospital in Pemiscot County, one of the poorest in Missouri. The GOP's American Health Care Act would cut Medicaid — the public insurance program for many low-income families, children and elderly Americans, as well as people with disabilities — by as much as $834 billion. The Congressional Budget Office has said that would result in 23 million more people being uninsured in the next 10 years. Even more could lose coverage under the budget proposed by President Trump, which suggests an additional $610 billion in cuts to the program. That is a problem for small rural hospitals like Pemiscot Memorial, which depend on Medicaid. The hospital serves an agricultural county that ranks worst in Missouri for most health indicators, including premature deaths, quality of life and even adult smoking rates. Closing the county's hospital could make those much worse.And a rural hospital closure goes beyond people losing health care. Jobs, property values and even schools can suffer. Pemiscot County already has the state's highest unemployment rate. Losing the hospital would mean losing the county's largest employer."It would be devastating economically," Noble says. "Our annual payrolls are around $20 million a year." All of that weighs on Noble's mind when he ponders the hospital's future. Pemiscot's story is a lesson in how decisions made by state and federal lawmakers have put these small hospitals on the edge of collapse.  Back in 2005, things were very different. The hospital was doing well, and Noble commissioned a $16 million plan to completely overhaul the facility, which was built in 1955."We were going to pay for the first phase of that in cash. We didn't even need to borrow any money for it," Noble says while thumbing through the old blueprints in his office at the hospital. But those renovations never happened. In 2005, the Missouri legislature passed sweeping cuts to Medicaid. More than 100,000 Missourians lost their health coverage, and this had an immediate impact on Pemiscot Memorial's bottom line. About 40 percent of their patients were enrolled in Medicaid at the time, and nearly half of them lost their insurance in the cuts.Those now-uninsured patients still needed care, though, and as a public hospital, Pemiscot Memorial had to take them in."So we're still providing care, but we're no longer being compensated," Noble says.And as the cost of treating the uninsured went up, the hospital's already slim margins shrunk. The hospital went into survival mode.


New best friends: GOP governors and renewables

EEnews | Posted on June 26, 2017

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is fresh off a legislative session in which he signed nine bills aimed at supporting the clean energy sector. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a tax exemption that solar installers say is essential to jump-starting the residential and commercial market in the Sunshine State. And in Iowa, where wind now accounts for 36 percent of the state's electricity generation, newly installed Gov. Kim Reynolds recently finished an energy plan that calls for growing the wind, biofuels and solar industries."For years, our fields have fed the world. Now, they energize it. They produce products that fuel cars, and they host wind turbines that power our communities and businesses," Reynolds said in her inaugural address last month. "And yet those fields are filled with untapped potential. Our energy plan will help us continue to lead the way in wind energy and renewable fuels. Working together, we can have the most innovative energy policy in the country."The growing embrace of renewables by Republican governors stands in stark contrast to the president. Trump's budget request for fiscal 2018 includes a 70 percent reduction to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has expressed concern about coal's decline and renewables' rise, has embarked on a grid reliability study. And in speeches across the country, Trump has railed against renewables while promising to revive the coal sector. But in states like Iowa and Nevada, which lack a local fossil fuel industry, Republican leaders are becoming increasingly comfortable with renewables. Wind now employs more than 8,000 people in Iowa. Two utilities in the Hawkeye State announced plans last year to invest $4.6 billion in new wind farms.Reynolds follows in the footsteps of longtime Gov. Terry Branstad (R), an outspoken wind advocate during six nonconsecutive terms in Des Moines. Branstad stepped down this year to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.As lieutenant governor, Reynolds led efforts last year to complete an Iowa Energy Plan. It calls for more ambitious renewable energy targets, best practices to help municipalities site turbines and grid modernization pilot projects, among other measures.The state's wind industry has helped attract Facebook, Microsoft and Google data centers to Iowa, said Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor."In general, renewable energy has provided for local energy production, job and business growth, increases in property tax revenue, and clean energy production in our own backyard," Smith said.


Arkansas Plant Board Votes to Ban Dicamba

Arkansas Matters | Posted on June 23, 2017

The Arkansas State Plant Board (ASPB) has voted to ban the sale and use of in-crop dicamba, with an exemption for pastureland. The decision came in a meeting Friday to consider an emergency rule on the herbicide.The Agriculture Council of Arkansas says the 9-5 vote Friday morning also calls for expediting enforcement of new penalties."The proposed rule is the first step in the process of establishing an emergency rule. The next step includes a review of the proposed rule by the Governor before being submitted to the Executive Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for approval," according to Adriane Barnes, Director of Communication with the Arkansas Agriculture Department.


Troxler defends NC milk inspection program following alarming audit

WRAL | Posted on June 23, 2017

North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler on Thursday responded to recent criticism by state auditors who say his agency's inspectors aren't tough enough on dairies when handling out grades on their milk.According to an audit released Wednesday, inspectors rarely took action when they noted repeated violations. In one case, for example, the inspector marked violations of the same two requirements for six successive inspections without suspending the dairy's permit to market its milk as Grade A.Troxler mostly spoke about what he called "inaccuracies" in the audit. He talked about the processes milk producers go through and the work of inspectors to make sure they are being followed.During the years the audit took place, Troxler said there were nearly 13,000 tests on milk samples. He said only one showed unacceptable bacteria levels, and Troxler claims that facility was suspended from producing Grade A milk."I can tell you I am very upset and disappointed," Troxler said. "I want to make it clear that we have a safe milk supply that is inspected. Milk is the most regulated commodity sold in the United States, and it's because of the processes involved."


Judge reverses key ruling in $1.4 billion timber class action

Capital Press | Posted on June 23, 2017

A judge has ruled that counties can’t sue the State of Oregon for financial damages, potentially undermining a $1.4 billion class action lawsuit over state logging practices.Linn County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Murphy has reversed an earlier ruling in the case, which held that Oregon’s “sovereign immunity” doesn’t bar counties from seeking such damages.In his most recent June 20 decision, Murphy has agreed with Oregon’s attorneys that counties — as subdivisions of the state — cannot sue the state government for money.Murphy said he’s “well aware this interpretation contradicts” his earlier opinion, but he will provide the plaintiff counties with “the opportunity to re-plead their case in such a manner that is supported by the law if they can.”“Like peeling a very large onion this case contains complex layers of legal issues and theory that can take time to unravel,” he said.The judge has left open the possibility for the plaintiffs to seek an “equitable” remedy, such as an injunction or order that requires the state government to take certain actions without paying financial damages.


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