Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

The invasion of the killer weeds

Posted: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 3:00 pm
By: David Newquist
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Agriculture is facing a new threat in the form of weeds that have developed a resistance to the herbicide Roundup and its generic form, glyphosate.  So far, the resistant weeds have not shown up in South Dakota, but are in neighboring Minnesota.    One of the weeds that has quickly adapted to become resistant is pigweed, a common plant that is well known in the richer soils of South Dakota. Pigweed  (right) can grow three inches a day to six feet tall and is so tough that it can damage farm equipment. Horseweed and giant ragweed are among the ten weeds which have developed a resistance to glyphosate.

The resistant strains of weeds have a gloomy portent for agriculture.  Ninety percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S.  are genetically modified (GM) to be resistant to Roundup, a herbicide that is applied to soil and kills all plants except the crops genetically modified to be resistant to it.  Seventy percent of the corn and cotton grown in the U.S. are also such GM crops.

Roundup herbicide has had advantages for agriculture in South Dakota.  It lessens the amount of work it takes to grow crops, it has changed the methods of farming to lessen erosion and toxicity problems.  As an herbicide, it is much less dangerous and toxic than other chemicals and degrades without leaving much residual chemicals in the soil.

The use of Roundup  in South Dakota has all but eliminated the phenomena of pink air every spring.  When fall and spring plowing was the method of preparing the soil for planting, the Dakota winds would whip the dry earth into the air and give the sky a pinkish cast.  That airborne dust contained many chemical residues, so that some people with sensitivities to the chemicals had to wear masks during the windy, dusty season, or even leave the state until the air cleared up.  Minimum tillage agriculture which leaves crop residues to cover the earth and utilizes glyphosate to prevent the growth of weeds is largely responsible for cleaning up the air and reducing soil erosion to a remarkable degree.

In its coverage of the resistant weed problem, The New York Times reports that farmers are having to return to old, labor-intensive farming practices and are trying various combinations of weed control to see what might reduce the weed problem.

Monsanto Chemical owns the patent on Roundup and a number of the genetically modified crop seeds engineered to be resistant to it.  Monsanto has aggressively enforced its patent rights with teams of field investigators who search out farmers who have GM seeds that they haven’t bought from Monsanto.  In some cases, farmers have been brought into court for using seeds that they grew themselves but became crossed with GM strains from neighboring fields.

On top of the uncontrollable weeds that have developed a resistance to Roundup much like that in the GM crops, an early test of GM soybeans by members of the Russian academy of science have indicated that hamsters fed GM soybeans have developed fertility and developmental problems, and possibly heightened development of allergies.  A major concern with U.S. agricultural exports has been that some countries block GM-grown crops. While the Russian tests are too preliminary from which to draw conclusions, they may harden some nations against accepting GM crops and cause others to block them in the future.

A documentary film, “Food, Inc.,” has also called into question Monsanto’s patented hold on agriculture and the approval of GM crops for human and animal consumption.  The testing procedures for determining whether GM crops can have any effect on the humans and animals who eat them are inadequate and have not been developed to the point where scientists feel confident in their results.

SDSU President David L. Chicoine sits on the board of Monsanto, a paid position.  He was Dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois, which works closely with Monsanto in its research and development and marketing programs.  While the Roundup resistant weeds have not invaded South Dakota yet, the concerns about Monsanto and its products and practices have.

In a year when farmers in the northeastern part of the state can’t get into their fields because of flooded roads and saturated soils, the herbicide-resistant weeds and the questions about GM crops cast deeper shadows on agriculture, which is struggling for viability in these parts.

Update:  Larry Kurtz has called attention to this article on glyphosate in Scientific American.

Health Care Reform Boosts Liberty, Community… and Farms!

Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 8:04 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Harvard economics prof and blogger Greg Mankiw grumbles that health care reform represents a trade-off between community and liberty:

I like to think of the big tradeoff as being between community and liberty. From this perspective, the health reform bill offers more community (all Americans get health insurance, regulated by a centralized authority) and less liberty (insurance mandates, higher taxes). Once again, regardless of whether you are more communitarian or libertarian, a reasonable person should be able to understand the opposite vantagepoint [Dr. Greg Mankiw, "Healthcare, Tradeoffs, and the Road Ahead," blog, 2010.03.22].

I understand the opposite vantagepoint, but I see a more complex equation than “more community = less liberty.” It’s not a zero-sum game. Community does not take away liberty; community is the basis of liberty.

Health care reform gives us more economic liberty. Consider job lock: right now, lots of people are sticking with jobs they don’t like, jobs they aren’t optimally suited for, simply to cling to their employer health plans. Make health insurance easier to get and keep, and people will feel more free to pursue new jobs and even self-employment. And what’s more liberating than being your own boss…

…or growing your own food?

The reforms banning practices such as denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions also will affect farmers, Tolbert said.

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said he likes the bill. He said his sons had trouble coming back to the family farm due to pre-existing conditions from football injuries.

“This will fix that sort of coverage and help us as young people want to come back and get into agriculture,” Sombke said [David Montgomery, "Experts: Be Patient with Health Care Changes," Pierre Capital Journal, 2010.03.23].

Young people living and working where they want: that’s liberty. Even as we increase community. Neat trick!

Kristi Noem: Hamlin County Farm Welfare Queen

Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 7:58 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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If Mr. Epp keeps putting out good material like this, I might have to add him back to the RSS feed list!

We learned last year that Minnesota Congresswoman and anti-government, anti-socialism crusader Michelle Bachmann is herself a beneficiary of government socialism: her family farm collected over a quarter-million dollars in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2006.

But Bachmann’s a piker compared to South Dakota’s Iron Lady-in-waiting, Kristi Noem. During that same period, the newest U.S. House candidate, who works our pro-life anti-government factions into such a froth that they need a good cold shower, eleven-tupled Bachmann’s farm welfare haul. As Middle Border Sun reports, the Environmental Working Group database shows that Noem’s Racota Valley Ranch received $2,765,175 in government handouts, most of that for corn, soybean, and wheat production.

Noem has a 16.9% ownership stake in Racota Valley Ranch. The operation, which apparently spans three counties, was the single largest recipient of federal subsidies in Hamlin County:

Rank Recipient*
✴ ownership information available
Location Total USDA Subsidies
1995-2006
1 Racota Valley Ranch ∗ Hazel, SD 57242 $2,598,827
2 Bochek Stock Farms ∗ Vienna, SD 57271 $1,834,856
3 Clarmont Hutterian Brethren Inc ∗ Castlewood, SD 57223 $1,389,763
4 Poinsett Hutterian Brethren Inc ∗ Estelline, SD 57234 $1,363,047
5 Terrance Lee Hilliard Bryant, SD 57221 $1,194,959
6 Nathan N Lakness Hayti, SD 57241 $1,082,698
7 Leiseth Farms Inc ∗ Hazel, SD 57242 $996,724
8 Ronald E Jongeling Castlewood, SD 57223 $967,193
9 Milton A Lakness Hayti, SD 57241 $957,429
10 J Anderson Farm Inc ∗ Bryant, SD 57221 $921,281

Table 1: Top 10 Farm Subsidy Recipients, Hamlin County, SD, 1995–2006
Data courtesy of Environmental Working Group

It takes two Hutterite colonies combined to beat her haul, and that’s saying something!

For perspective, from my read of the EWG data, the average amount Hamlin County farmers received from Uncle Sam from 1995 to 2006 was just under $82,000, or about $7400 a year. Noem’s ranch averaged $250,000 in government handouts each year.

Racota Valley Ranch’s handout haul makes it the 16th largest farm subsidy recipient in South Dakota. That’s out of 75,612 recipients.

Sigh. Just when I thought Noem might bring some fresh perspective to the House race, it turns out she’s just another Tea Party faker, shaking her fist at big government holding out her other hand for payment.

CAFOs Raise Stink… and Asthma, Antibiotic Resistance, Swine Flu…

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 10:07 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Farm Bureau propagandists like Troy Hadrick criticize those darn lawyers and other folks who find the odor of concentrated animal feeding operations offensive. Dr. Donna Wong-Gibbons documents other CAFO harms that go far beyond stink:

…[O]dor is only part of the concern. [Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide] are also airway irritants that can cause respiratory problems. If you’re in a situation where you’re exposed to a high level of ammonia in the air, your eyes are going to water. Your throat is going to hurt. These are the biological and physiological signs that something is wrong — that these compounds are not good for you.

Particulate matter is also an issue with livestock confinements. This includes things such as dust, feathers, fecal matter, and fur. There is extensive research on associations between airborne particulate matter and respiratory problems or cardiovascular problems.

But as far as the irritation from ammonia and hydrogen sulfide — that’s essentially what you see in areas that are downwind or surrounding these facilities. There have also been documented respiratory problems in the people who work in these facilities — in livestock confinements — that are likely due to those exposures [Dr. Donna Wong Gibbons, interview with Julia Wasson, “Plains Justice — CAFOs and Threats to Human Health,” Blue Planet, Green Living, 2010.01.06.

Kelly Fuller pointed me toward this report, which Dr. Wong-Gibbons produced for Plains Justice, the group for which Fuller works, to document the range of public health threats caused by CAFOs. The report also documents higher instances of asthma, water pollution, arsenic in chicken, antibiotic resistance, and bird and swine flu, all related to big animal feedlots.

Read the full (PDF) report here. Then be prepared for the likely impolite and aggressive responses from the defenders of unhealthy factory farms.

B.O. Admin Plan Pushes Ag Rollbacks

Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 9:41 am
By: RadioActive Chief
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Plan to turn farms into forest worries Obama official

Hmmm. Looks like the USDA in conjunction with EPA is setting up a push in the direction of an at least partial repeal of that environmentally risky 5000 year experiment with agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has ordered his staff to revise a computerized forecasting model that showed that climate legislation supported by President Obama would make planting trees more lucrative than producing food.

The latest Agriculture Department economic-impact study of the climate bill, which passed the House this summer, found that the legislation would profit farmers in the long term. But those profits would come mostly from higher crop prices as a result of the legislation’s incentives to plant more forests and thus reduce the amount of land devoted to food-producing agriculture.

Questions come to mind…how is this plan supposed to work, and what sort of modeling is being used to generate it, and are the predicted changes actually valid? The latter two issues are far from being trivial, given the proven tendency of environmentally oriented (junk-)scientists to fake and distort statistics, and use demonstrably invalid computer modeling in order to prove their (pre-determined) conclusions.

In spite of that, it seems like the first question is shaky enough in its premises that the Ag Secretary is calling the idea into question.

According to the economic model used by the department and the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation would give landowners incentives to convert up to 59 million acres of farmland into forests over the next 40 years. The reason: Trees clean the air of heat-trapping gases better than farming does.

Mr. Vilsack, in a little-noticed statement issued with the report earlier this month, said the department’s forecasts “have caused considerable concern” among farmers and ranchers.
“If landowners plant trees to the extent the model suggests, this would be disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country,” he said.

Gee…d’ya think, maybe so? Wonder what the first clue was?

He said the Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimization Model (FASOM), created by researchers at Texas A&M University, does not take into account other provisions in the House-passed bill, which would boost farmers’ income while they continue to produce food. Those omissions, he said, cause the model to overestimate the potential for increased forest planting.

Oh yeah: the pesky bit about invalid computer modeling again!

Mr. Vilsack said he has directed his chief economist to work with the EPA to “undertake a review of the assumptions in the FASOM model, to update the model and to develop options on how best to avoid unintended consequences for agriculture that might result from climate change legislation.”

One HAS to question the outcome of any revision just as strongly as the original scvheme. Given the political realities, it seems not unlikely that the revisions will be crafted to give the APPEARANCE of solving problems, while continuing in effect to “nudge” (in the terms of B.O.’s Czardomry) us in a direction back towards the cave.

The legislation would give free emissions credits, known as offsets, to farmers and landowners who plant forests and adopt low-carbon farm and ranching practices.

Can you say “Cap and Trade”?

Farmers and ranchers could sell the credits to help major emitters of greenhouse gases comply with the legislation. That revenue would help the farmers deal with an expected rise in fuel and fertilizer costs. But the economic forecast predicts that nearly 80 percent of the offsets would be earned through the planting of trees, mostly in the Midwest, the South and the Plains states.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and some farm-state Republican lawmakers have complained that the offsets program would push landowners to plant trees and terminate their leases with farmers.

The model projects that reduced farm production will cause food prices to rise by 4.5 percent by 2050 compared with a scenario in which no legislation is passed, the department found.

Ooops! Maybe THIS is the problem with the projection…it would give ammo to opponents of the overall (pseudo) green policy framework, which after all is built on the foundation of junk-climate science as propounded by the Great Church of St. Gore the Green.

Monsanto Monopoly Stifles Seed Innovation

Posted: Thursday, December 24, 2009 at 10:39 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Hey, Dr. Chicoine! Pass this on at the next Monsanto board meeting!

A couple weeks ago, I gave ag-industry propagandist Troy Hadrick grief for a blog post titled “Uniting Agriculture.” The Daily Yonder suggests that the problem with agriculture is that the industry is far too united, behind a few corporate players who dominate every part of the market, including seed engineering. The Yonder crew share excerpts of “Out of Hand,” a new report from the National Family Farm Coalition’s Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering.

Why should you be alarmed? Simple economics—monopolies are bad:

The concentration of economic power in agriculture has led to grave consequences for American farmers and rural communities. Today, reduced competition in agricultural markets means farmers face increasingly high input prices and diminished choice and innovation….For example, four firms control more than 80 percent of beef packing; three firms control about 70 percent of soybean crushing; and three firms handle 55 percent of flour milling. Farms themselves have quickly consolidated since the 1930s. The number of farms has decreased over the years, while the size of farms and the average age of farmers have steadily increased….

Input industries are included in the trend and in fact demonstrate even higher levels of concentration in some sectors. Six companies account for 75 percent of the agricultural chemical market worldwide.

The seed industry is one of the most concentrated in agriculture. The top four firms account for 43 percent of the global commercial seed market, which includes both public and proprietary varieties sold. They also account for 50 percent of the global proprietary seed market. (The term proprietary refers to branded seed subject to intellectual property protections.)

The prevailing leader, the Monsanto Company, accounts for about 60 percent of both the U.S. corn and soybean seed market through subsidiaries and technology (i.e., genetically engineered traits, such as Roundup Ready andBt ) licensing agreements with smaller companies. When looking specifically at genetically engineered traits in the U.S., more than 90 percent of the soybean and cotton acreage, and more than 80 percent of corn acreage, is planted with one or more of Monsanto’s traits.

Under the hegemony of Monsanto and the ag-industrial complex, life itself becomes a patentable commodity. The intellectual property purists will contend that patents on seed DNA allowbiotech companies to protect investment and thus incentivize innovation. But the Farmer to Farmer Campaign finds this privatization of research and consolidation of the seed industry has actually reduced innovation:

Utility patents have not spurred innovation in plants. In fact, the opposite seems true, as evidenced by USDA reports that document a downward trend: “Calculations for corn, soybeans, and cotton indicate that as the seed industry became more concentrated during the late 1990s, private research intensity dropped or slowed.” As opposed to driving innovation, utility patents on plants have provided an incentive to expand control over genetic resources, limit access to them, and make access expensive.

The number of independent seed companies, especially small, family-operated businesses and research firms, has dramatically declined over the last few decades. As mentioned earlier, the Independent Professional Seed Association says there are only about 100 independent seed companies left, compared to more than 300 total (independent and consolidated) thirteen years ago.

But all that genetically engineered seed is feeding the world, right? Monsanto’s glyphosate (a.k.a. Round-Up™) is the best thing to happen to farming in the last hundred years, isn’t it?

…Glyphosate-resistant weeds are now established in 19 states and deemed a serious economic problem, at times adding more than $20 per acre. Weed specialists refer to resistant weeds as a “train wreck” making their way across the country.

…Some of the worst resistance is found in pigweed (Palmer amaranth). Resistant pigweed now infests hundreds of thousands of acres in the Southeast. For example, 70 to 80 percent of Macon County, Georgia, dubbed the “epicenter” ofglyphosate-resistant Pigweed, is infested with the weed, and farmers were forced to abandon 10,000 acres in 2007.

Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson explains that, “Farmers do not think resistance is a problem until they actually have it.” Johnson points out that new innovation and choice in herbicides has diminished over the years, so farmers have fewer chemical options. He says farmers “think the chemical companies can turn on the spigots and produce a new herbicide whenever they want.” But with Roundup’s success, money has not been invested in new herbicide research.

Troy Hadrick calls for “uniting agriculture,” but you don’t hear him uniting with his fellow farmers who issued this report on the dangers of seed consolidation. Hadrick’s Farm Bureau party line has no room for real grassroots campaigns to protect independent farming. Hadrick only has blog ink for Ag Inc.

That’s the “united agriculture” Troy Hadrick is fronting. That’s the “united agriculture” that drives up costs, stifles innovation, and puts more independent family farms out of business.

Monsanto and its monopolists want serfdom. Where’s Tsar Alexander II when you need him?

Hadrick Attacks Animal Rights Allies, Boosts Monolithic Ag Industry

Posted: Monday, December 14, 2009 at 8:50 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I read Troy Hadrick’s blog, Advocates for Agriculture, to keep my finger on the pulse of propaganda from the ag-industrial complex. His latest post is another sad example of his failure to effectively advocate for the family farms and ranches he claims to represent.

Hadrick describes the opportunity he and his wife had to make another couple thousand dollars in speaking fees at the Range Beef Cow Symposium in Casper, Wyoming. He shared the usual platitudes—tell your story, work together, etc. Hadrick then turns to denigrating the following speaker who told his story. Hadrick apparently found this speaker so distasteful he can’t even mention the man’s name. Hadrick takes issue with Rollin’s recommendation that beef producers take advantage of consumer desire for a product raised in humane conditions by emphasizing that American cattle spend their lives in far healthier conditions than do pigs or poultry. Hadrick says all ag producers need to stick together as a united industry and not “trash” competing commodities.

Now there is a reasonable argument about marketing and business strategy, even if it does smell faintly of unionism and collusion. But Hadrick never feels secure enough in his argument to stick with the issues. He resorts here as usual to attacks on personality and association. He criticizes the man for being an ethicist with a Ph.D. who “sit[s] at a desk for a career.” He notes the speaker grew up in Brooklyn and clearly “knows nothing about the cowboy culture” (because, like Sarah Palin, Hadrick apparently doesn’t think urban American produces “real” Americans). Hadrick brands this man as a tool of the Humane Society and lobbyists in Washington, D.C. (Never mind that Hadrick himself is big in the Farm Bureau and thus associates with numerous D.C. lobbyists.) How can “a person like this” have any authority to tell farmers and ranchers what’s right or wrong?

[Photo credit: Today@Colorado State]

Who is this unnamed sissified urbanite destroyer of agriculture?

Dr. Bernard E. Rollin, bioethicist and University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Animal Sciences, and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. When he’s not lifting weights or riding his Harley, Professor Rollin writes books and teaches about animals and morality. Last month, Dr. Rollin had the audacity to give one of his lectures right in the heart of rural America at South Dakota State University. Amanda Nolz, a passionate advocate of agriculture herself, wrote up his Brookings presentation to 300 beef producers and students. Her assessment:

At first, his audience was unsure of Rollin’s allegiance, but by the end of his lecture, there wasn’t a doubt that he was a true champion for the beef cattle industry [Amanda Nolz, "Animal Ethics Professor Offers Advice to Beef Industry," Tri-State Livestock News, 2009.11.20].

But what about all his academic namby-pamby animal rights talk?

Rollin said that producers often mistake ‘animal rights’ as a dirty phrase because groups like PETA and HSUS so heavily use that word. He warns producers not to let those groups take that phrase from them.

“Animal rights is a word producers should own because it’s a very powerful word,” said Rollin. “The vast majority of ranchers truly believe that animals have rights. Animals do have certain entitlements: access to food, water, shelter and shade. Ranchers follow that code everyday, so why not own it?”

Hm. Sounds to me as if Dr. Rollin has a pretty level-headed understanding of what ranching is about and how beef can sell itself as a superior product. Nolz and the Brookings audience appear to have gotten that message. But Troy Hadrick seems to be so overwhelmed by the fumes of his own propaganda that he’d rather stand cheek by filthy jowl with ag atrocities like Smithfield Foods than embrace the message of a thoughtful advocate who shares the values of South Dakota’s family farmers and ranchers.

————————–
By the way, still not one word from Hadrick in defense of the family farms our state may put out of business with oppressive new rules on raw milk sales. Read this letter from Lila Streff of Streff Ridge Farm Goat Dairy near Custer as she tells her story… and then ask Hadrick why he’s not advocating for South Dakota’s small dairies.

GAO: Ethanol Has High Water Cost, Especially in South Dakota

Posted: Saturday, December 12, 2009 at 6:18 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I’ve written previously that, among other things, increasing corn ethanol production may drain water supplies and be harm water quality. The General Accounting Office has issued a new report that supports the idea that, even if ethanol is a good domestic alternative to foreign fossil fuel, we need to consider the other resources we’ll pour into the ground to get it.

The report notes that South Dakota is part of a twelve-state region that produced 89% of America’s corn in 2007 and 2008 and 95% of the corn ethanol in 2007. The states in USDA Region 7 (that’s us, along with North Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas) rely heavily on irrigation to get corn to grow. In our neck of the woods, growing one bushel of corn requires 865 gallons of irrigated water. In the other big corn-producing states (the rest of the Midwest, from Minnesota and Iowa over to Michigan and Ohio), it rains enough that the same bushel of corn requires only 19 to 38 gallons of irrigation.

Given an average yield in 2008 of 153.8 bushels per acre, another section of grassland turned to corn grown with irrigation will consume another 88 million gallons of water. That’s as much water as South Dakotans consume for domestic use every eleven days. And that’s a single section turned to corn. Look bigger: South Dakota’s ethanol refineries use 291 million bushels of corn each year. That corn took a staggering 252 billion gallons of water to grow, almost 90 years worth of South Dakota domestic water consumption.

Ninety years of domestic water supply, traded for one year of ethanol production. How long can we sustain that trade-off?

p.s.: U.S. Farm Service data suggest that between 2002 and 2007, 475,000 acres of grassland in North and South Dakota were newly plowed for crop production.

SHS, Dems Pass Estate Tax Relief for 99.75% of Americans

Posted: Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 8:08 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Ho, ho, ho….

As Dakota War College continues to regurgitate the press release from GOP Central, let’s get a reality check on HR 4154, the estate tax relief bill that the House passed this week. SHS voted aye for once with the Dem majority. DWC’s commenters grumble that SHS is voting for double or triple taxation… although that never stops South Dakota Republicans from arguing in favor of property tax, which taxes the same accumulated wealth repeatedly year after year, or sales tax on food or clothing, which is a double tax on the money we’ve already worked hard for and paid our fair share of income tax for.

The propagandists fronting for Big Ag like to tell you that the estate tax is a death tax that threatens to put family farmers out of business. Horse hockey. Rep. Earl Pomeroy from North Dakota sponsored HR 4154. We might expect a North Dakota Congressman and Ag Committee member to know a thing or two about the impact of taxes on rural America. As Rep. Pomeroy points out, HR 4154 actually eliminates the estate tax for 99.75% of Americans.

Of course in South Dakota, And a South Dakota reality check:

In 2003 when the exemption amount was $1 million, only 50 of the 7133 decedents in South Dakota had estate tax liability – 99.8 percent of decedents paid no estate tax [Coalition for America's Priorities, "Estate Tax Information: South Dakota," retrieved 2009.12.05].

The exemption in HR 4154 is $3.5 million. For couples (like the moms and pops running family farms), it’s $7 million. Now if Pat can show me his slice of the real estate business is worth more than $3.5 million, then he’s got a gripe. If Troy and Stacy can show me their operation is worth $7 million, then they’ve got a gripe (although they can make $2000 a pop just to do that griping in front of an audience).

And remember: without Congressional action, the estate tax will be replaced next year by a capital gains tax that will hit ten times as many estates.

Gee, sounds to me like SHS and the Dems are doing a lot of family farms and small businesses a favor… unless, of course, your definition of family farm and small business includes the Stips, whose machinery alone can sell at auction for over $5 million dollars.

Make Research Relevant: Blog It!

Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 8:34 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Our man Hunter pines for more applied research from our universities… but he also calls on folks outside academia to pay more attention to the papers our eggheads are currently churning out:

The state of South Dakota has an office whose mission is to help commercialize the research that’s going on in state universities. But we believe the responsibility also lies in the rest of us who are working throughout the state to seek out such research.

Here’s an example: A Dakota State University biology education student presented research results at a national conference and was a fellowship awardee. The research project was titled “Effects of Plant and Soil Samples on Microorganisms on Corn and Soybeans.” Yet we wonder how many people involved in corn and soybeans in South Dakota have read it or taken action knowing the results [Jon Hunter, "The Rest of Us Need to Learn from Higher Education Research," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.11.30].

Hunter makes a reaonable point: I’ll bet few if any farmers or elevator managers have spent time reading the academic research journals related to their industry. I’ll also bet few if any farmers or elevator managers have spent an enjoyable evening removing hair from their butts with duct tape. The two experiences are roughly similar in pleasure and productivity.

Why on earth would any practitioner in any field want to read an academic journal? Academics publish in the arcane journals of their field to win and keep tenure. They write their articles for a narrow audience of fellow professors who serve on the boards of elite journals. Writing for practitioners is actually viewed as a ding against one’s record at some universities. University researchers expect each other write abstract, detached epistles to theory and methodology, devoid of context, specifics, or passion.

My friend Toby and I submitted a paper on this very topic at the MWAIS conference here at SDU last May. Even as we wrote, we struggled against that same urge for fancy academic lingo. We recommended researchers adopt a research methodology called scholarly personal narrative, in which the researcher talks directly about his or her own experience and puts it in the context of actual practice as well as the latest developments in the field.

One excellent way to carry out scholarly personal narrative and produce the sort of relevant, engaging research that Hunter wants is the blog. Researchers (like Lilia Efimova, who researches the Internet) can conduct and write about their research online. They can blog their ideas, their data collection process, their thought processes. They can put rough drafts online, in publicly accessible language. They can even turn on the comments and seek the input of their readers, who may see things in a very different light from the laboratory perspective. They can make their results available to everyone, immediately, with the push of a button, rather than waiting for an academic review process that can take years and results in papers locked away in proprietary journals and databases that folks outside the university can’t afford to access.

Some researchers are pursuing something like blog-based research and “open access” publishing. If academics want to fulfill Hunter’s desire for more engagement between researchers and practitioners, they should look at the open access model. They should look at breaking away from the insular language and rules of the current journals and speak directly to the general public online.