May 26, 2015

State forest nursery holding meeting on price increase

State-forest-nurseryThe Department of Natural Resources is holding a hearing today at the state forest nursery in Ames on a proposal to increase the prices of the seedlings sold there.

DNR Chief of Forestry, Paul Tauke, says it’s part of a bigger issue faced by the nursery as the requests for planting large-scale conservation areas has dropped off.

“Those would be on the small end three acres, and back in the glory days it was not uncommon to have 30, 40, 50 acre plantings and sometimes plantings as big as 100 acres,” Tauke says. “That’s sort of the crux of the problem, those large-scale plantings just aren’t occurring anymore.” Those big areas required a lot of small trees to fill them.

“In the glory days of tree planting — probably from about 1990 through about 2002 or 2003 — the nursery was selling anywhere from three to five million plants a year,” Tauke explains. The incentives to plant trees for conservation have stayed about the same and Tauke says those who wanted to take advantage of them have already done so, leading to a drop in demand.

Fewer sales drives up the cost to produce the seedlings, and Tauke says they need to make up some of the difference. “Under Iowa code it’s supposed to operate at break even. That was put into the code in 1986, and it’s been struggling to do that for several years now. We are struggling to get revenues and expenditures in line,” Tauke says. The proposed increase is around 25 cents for small seedlings and 35 cents for larger seedlings. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the seedlings are sold in lots of 100.

“A typical customer might buy anywhere from 500 to 1,000 depending on what they are doing,” Tauke says. The emerald ash borer is forcing cities to cut down thousands of trees, but Tauke says the state nursery hasn’t benefited from the infestation. “We don’t really get much business from emerald ash borer because a lot the demand for replacement trees is in the landscape and ornamental market. And we sell conservation seedlings, so we don’t sell a landscape-sized tree,” Tauke says.

There are also regulations that prevent the state forest nursery from benefiting from the need to replace ash trees. “A small nursery couldn’t buy our stock and then grow it out to a landscaped-size plant and then sell it because that’s against the current rule,” Tauke says. “We are not addressing that in this rule, but maybe down the road we might. That gets a little bit controversial because some private nurseries don’t necessarily like that rule. So, what we are trying to do is get a rule through that help stops the bleeding.”

Tauke says there are some other ideas for changing the rules to try and help the nursery stay viable. “Could we lower the minimum quantity that somebody needs to order. Could we explore the opportunity for small nurseries or big nurseries for that matter to buy our stock and then line it out and grow landscaped trees,” Tauke says. “But again, those things tend to get a little bit more controversial with the private sectors.” He says the private nurseries don’t want to face competition from the state.

Anyone wishing to comment on the proposed price increase for the seedlings at the state forest nursery can attend the public meeting today at 4 p.m. You can also send comments to Tauke at Chief of Forestry, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 502 East Ninth Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319-3304 or email paul.tauke@dnr.iowa.gov.

 

Home Base Iowa program hits one year old

Home-baseIt was one year ago on Memorial Day that Governor Terry Branstad signed the “Home Base Iowa” bill into law. The law creates several benefits for veterans in an effort to get them to live in Iowa once they leave the military.

Casey’s General Stores CEO Bob Myers, and former Iowa Congressman Leonard Boswell are the cochairs of the Home Base Iowa effort. Myers says a lot has happened since the program got going.

“We do know that at this point the number of hires is over 1,300,” Myer says. He says in the year since the signing of the legislation, Iowa moved from a “veterans unfriendly state, to a veterans friendly state.”

Myers says his company has hired veterans through the program and they have worked out very well. He says he is a member of the Iowa Business Council and its 20 members have pledged to hire 2,500 veterans over the course of the next five years.

“So, many of those 1,300 hires are part of the Iowa Business Council partnership, so we should all be proud of the fact that we’ve hired that many veterans,” according to Myers.

Myers and Boswell are both Vietnam veterans. Boswell says they understand what it means to veterans to be able to get a job and contribute to society once they get out of the military. “The whole idea behind this Home Base Iowa was the fact that 250,000 or plus men and women are being pushed out of the service. They are there, they are volunteers. The preponderance of those have been there 10 or more years, they are not qualified to retire or do anything like that,” Boswell says.

He says the program takes advantage of the skills and training the soldiers got in the military. “They’ve got a lot of talent, they’ve got a experience, they are motivated, so we extended out this program to bring them to Iowa,” Boswell says.

Boswell says the effort is not done.”If it stopped today it would be a success story, but it’s not going to stop, it’s got momentum,” Boswell says.

Myer says the cut back in U.S. forces continues, and while that may turnaround sometime, he doesn’t see that happening in the immediate future. “We still have a need if you will, to employ veterans who are leaving the services until that changes,” Myers says. “And it may not change, and it won’t change for the next couple of years. That’s what I see going on right now.”

Some of the provisions of the law eliminate state income taxes on military pensions for soldiers and their surviving spouses. It also makes it easier for soldiers to earn academic credit for their military training and experience, if they decide to seek a degree at an Iowa college or university. In addition, state boards are required to take into account a soldier’s military skills when the soldier applies for a professional license.

Those interested in the program can find out more information at: www.homebaseiowa.gov.

Governor signs distance education bill

Governor Terry Branstad and officials from the state colleges and univerisities.

Governor Terry Branstad and officials from the state colleges and univerisities.

Representatives of higher education in Iowa gathered in Governor Terry Branstad’s office today as he signed a bill that sets national standards for courses offered on-line by schools.

“It’s a great example of bipartisan cooperation and the involvement of all sectors of higher education, the public universities, the private colleges and universities and community colleges,” Branstad says.

The bill lets Iowa apply to join 23 other states in what’s called the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement or SARA. “Belonging to SARA means that a state’s public and private higher education institutions pay a fee to SARA, which automatically registers their distance education courses and programs in other member states, instead of having to register and pay a fee in each of the 50 states,” Branstad explains.

The bill signing.

The bill signing.

The governor says paying one fee will cut the costs each school has to pay, which should cut the costs students pay to attend the institutions. “Participating in SARA also gives Iowa colleges and universities an important competitive edge in the fast-growing world of distance education,” Branstad says.

Getting the bill completed required finding a way to reimburse students when there are differences in tuition. The governor suggested creating a fund that could do that, which led to some levity between Branstad and Attorney General Tom Miller at the bill signing. “We came up with I think a novel idea,” Branstad started to say and Miller cut in and said, “It was your idea, it was a brilliant idea,” which led to laughter from the group. “Well, I want to be humble about it,” Branstad replied to more laughter.

Attorney General Miller found the money for the fund and the bill went on to pass the Iowa House and Senate unanimously. Branstad said he expects the plan to become even more important as the use of distance education increases.

 

State cancels all poultry shows in effort to stop bird flu spread

chickensThe Iowa Department of Agriculture announced Thursday afternoon an order to immediately cancel all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza.

Iowa Ag Secretary, Bill Northey, says they looked at a lot of factors in making the decision. “In the interest of making sure that we don’t spread this disease — that we minimize the opportunity for it to move around the state especially — it’s important for us to cancel those exhibitions and make sure we are doing everything we can in the midst of this situation to control the disease,” Northey says.

The county fairs will be the first to be impacted. “It’s sure hard to take away that opportunity that kids would have to be able show,” Northey says. “And I know we have a lot of folks who go to our county fair and our state fair to be able to see some of the birds and to talk to some of the young producers out there.” The state announced the 63rd probably case of the avian flu Thursday shortly after announcing the cancellation of poultry shows.

Northey says they want to be sure the spread of the disease is stopped as it is starting to look like it is slowing.”We still see a few cases, we’ve seen some this week, nearly every day this week a case or two. The number has slowed down, and certainly the size of the operations that have been impacted have decreased to some degree here,” according to Northey. “We’re hopeful that we are on the downhill side of this. Some of our neighboring states we are starting to see them go several days without new cases and we’re hopeful throughout the whole midwest that we are getting towards the end of this.”

Iowa State Fair Manager, Gary Slater, says they support the decision. “We’re certainly disappointed that we are not able to continue our poultry competition this year…disappointed that this one had to be canceled,” Slater says. Slater says understand the reasoning behind the decision. “Our poultry industry is very important to the economy and to the industry here in Iowa, and we certainly would not want to jeopardize anybody or anything by spreading this disease as we try to get this virus stamped out as best we can,” Slater says.

He says the decision comes in time to let county fairs know. The county fair winners move on to the Iowa State Fair to show their birds. He says they have around 100 exhibitors between chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigeons, and they have more than 1,000 animals they put on display.

The Iowa State Fair poulty exhibit dates back to 1904, and not only will the exhibitors miss having animals at the fair, but he says it takes away one of the things he and others like stop in and see. Slater says he loves going into the barn and seeing the different colors and types of chickens in the poultry barn. “It’s very entertaining to one degree, but it’s also educational, ag educational,” Slater says.

The poultry exhibits share space with the rabbits and Slater says they will work on filling out the space. “We’ll try to make sure that we have either educational exhibits on poultry and the poultry industry in Iowa, or maybe can extend a little bit the bunnies in the barn so we don’t have just part of the fair where there’s nothing in there,” Slater says. He says they’ll be brainstorming over the next few weeks to see what they can put in there.

The state now has more than 25 million birds that have been hit by the avian influenza and are in the process of being destroyed.

All county fair and Iowa State Fair poultry exhibits canceled by bird flu threat

Agriculture-Department-logoThe Iowa Department of Agriculture today announced an order to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza.

The Department’s order begins immediately, is effective through the end of 2015, and also prohibits live birds from being sold at livestock auction markets, swap meets and exotic sales.

Iowa has over 25 million birds and more than 60 farms impacted by H5N2 highly-pathogenic avian influenza. A news release from the Ag Department says the purpose of the directive is to minimize the risk of potential further spread of the virus to other poultry.

The Center for Disease Control and Iowa Department of Public Health consider the risk to the public to be very low. No human infections of the virus have ever been detected and there is no food safety risk for consumers.

Top three credit reporting agencies agree to changes to help consumers

The top three credit reporting agencies have agreed to changes.

The top three credit reporting agencies have agreed to changes.

A spokesman for Iowa’s Attorney General says getting errors removed from your credit report is going to get easier under an agreement reached with the top three credit reporting agencies.

Spokesman Geoff Greenwood says 31 states are a part of the agreement to improve the accuracy of the reports. “For years we’ve been getting complaints about all of the credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and Trans Union — so for the last couple of years, attorneys general have tried to address this problem,” Greenwood says.

Credit reports assign credit scores based on a variety of factors, including how well you pay your bills, how much money you’ve borrowed. Under this agreement the credit reporting agencies must implement an escalated process for handling complicated disputes, such as those involving identity theft, fraud, or cases where one consumer’s information is mixed with another’s.

“A credit report is really important, in some respects it’s a life story of your finances,” Greenwood says. “And others read those reports when they are thinking about extending you credit for a car, or a house, or maybe even hiring you.”

Greenwood says this agreement also addresses one particular area of concern — the payment of medical bills. “In some cases consumers were still working things our with their insurance company, didn’t get enough time and it ends up being a blemish on their credit report. This institute some changes that we think will reduce those types of reports on people’s credit reports,” Greenwood says.

The credit reporting agencies now cannot place medical debt on a credit report until 180 days after the account is reported to the credit reporting agency to gives consumers time to work out issues with their insurance companies.

Greenwood says you can get a free credit report from each of the three agencies by going to the website www.annualcreditreport.com. Then you can act to clear up any wrong information. “If you see an error, contact the credit reporting agency and let them know about the error,” Greenwood says. “As part of this agreement, they are going to make it easier for consumers.”

The agreement is sending $6 million  to the states, with $106,000 coming to Iowa for Iowa’s consumer education and litigation fund. Greenwood says credit reporting agencies will implement the changes in three phases to allow them to update their IT systems and procedures with data furnishers. All changes must be completed by three years and 90 days following the settlement’s effective date.

 

Appeals Court rules blog did not influence jury in Iowa City murder trial

gavel-thumbnailThe Iowa Court of Appeals says information blogged about a juror is not enough to get a Johnson County man a new murder trial. A reporter for the Cedar Rapids Gazette live-blogged the name and some personal information of a prospective juror during jury selection in the 2013 murder trial of Brandon Dandre Brown.

The reporter quickly deleted the information after being told by the court to remove it. The prospective juror was dismissed and other prospective jurors were told what happened. They did not express concern, and the trial went on. Brown was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Donelle Lindsey in Iowa City. He appealed the conviction, saying he the jury could not be impartial after the blogging incident.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that Brown failed to show that the jury was biased and that he was prejudiced as a result. It also dismissed claims that the evidence didn’t support his conviction and denied his request for a mistrial.

(Note: This story has been updated to reflect an error in the opinion date issued by the court. The trial occurred in 2013 not 2012.)