July 3, 2015

Senator Grassley says Greek financial trouble could impact other nations

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

A Midwestern economist fears ripple effects from the financial turmoil in Greece will cause trouble in the heartland’s farm economy, but Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is hopeful there will be minimal impact here.

Voters in Greece will go to the polls on Sunday to weigh in on the latest bailout proposal offered by European creditors. Grassley says Greece is a small country, but the aftershocks could be felt a world away. Grassley says, “I think there’s a feeling it could be a slippery slope that if Greece leaves the Euro, then maybe Portugal, Spain and Italy may follow.”

Just hours before the current European bailout program was to expire on Monday, a new two-year rescue plan was offered for Greece. Grassley notes the news from overseas caused the American stock markets to drop some 350 points on Monday. “There’s a certain amount of uncertainty,” Grassley says, “but I think it’s the uncertainty that’s impacting us through the stock market.”

Grassley, who served for years on the Senate Finance Committee, says actions made by one nation often have a far-reaching impact on other nations. “We do have a global economy and so when somebody in Greece or someplace around the world sneezes, the rest of the world could get a cold,” Grassley says. “I think that’s what you’ve got to worry about.”

Given the situation in Greece, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says he foresees more people investing in safe havens such as U.S. bonds and if that happens, interest rates — and yields — will drop. “It makes our goods less competitively priced abroad,” Goss says. “It makes agricultural commodity prices less competitive abroad.” Goss predicts a “trickle-down effect” if Greece exits the European Union and quits using the Euro.

Greece becomes the first country to default on a payment to the International Monetary Fund, a payment of $1.6 billion.


Iowa State University hosting open house at Insect Zoo

Ginny Mitchell and a millipede.

Ginny Mitchell and a millipede.

While many Iowa communities have tractor pulls, only Ames will be holding a cockroach pull this week, in addition to roach races. The Insect Zoo at Iowa State University is hosting its first open house tomorrow. Zoo coordinator Ginny Mitchell says a wide assortment of multi-legged creatures — from crabs to walking sticks to scorpions — will be on display and some will crawl right up your arm, if you let them.

“We’ll be displaying about 50 different tarantulas,” Mitchell says. “We’ll also have giant Malaysian katydids which are about the size of my hand. We will have African giant millipedes, hissing cockroaches along with about 15 other species of cockroaches that are not pests.”

The zoo is an educational outreach effort by ISU, so it travels all over the state to introduce insects to Iowans of all ages in daycare centers, schools and nursing homes. Mitchell says elementary students are often fascinated by the insects while other people may have just the opposite sentiment.

“People do visit to try and get over their fear of bugs, specifically tarantulas and other spiders,” Mitchell says. “We have a lot of older folks who, for the first time ever, are getting up close with a tarantula and are braving their fears and actually touching them.” The zoo’s event will include insect-themed artwork and a close-up look at a honeybee hive.

This is a dream job for Mitchell, who’s had a lifelong curiosity about critters that slither. “I have no fear,” Mitchell says, laughing. “I have never been afraid of any of the creepy crawlies that instill fear in people. I’ve always loved all animals, no matter how many legs they had or even if they’re completely lacking legs. I love my job. I get to play with bugs all day long and kids, there’s nothing better.”

The open house theme is “Come Get Your Bug On” and it will be held Wednesday from 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. on the 1st and 4th floors of Science Hall II, across from the Insectary on Pammel Drive. Admission is free.


Smoke from Canadian wildfires give sun a new look

Sunsets have a golden hue caused by smoke from Canadian fires.

Sunsets have a golden hue caused by smoke from Canadian fires.

You may have noticed the sun was a strange color this morning and on Monday. You can blame Canada.

The afternoon sun had a sort of golden-yellow hue and the sunset was spectacular. National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Cogil says it’s due to smoke from at least 40 wildfires in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, fires sparked by lightning.

“We’re seeing Canadian wildfires producing quite a bit of smoke and that smoke is moving southeast into the Midwestern part of the United States and causing some obscuration of the sun during the afternoon and evening hours,” Cogil says, “and also the moon during the overnight was a dusky orange.”

Cogil says Iowans will likely see the sun through the smoky filter for a bit longer. “It does look like we may continue to see this smoke down across us during the day today as we see the upper flow continue from the northwest out of Canada,” he says. If you have asthma or other breathing issues, the smoke shouldn’t bring you any trouble. “Most of the smoke is in the upper levels of the atmosphere, not really down near the surface, so it doesn’t appear so at this time,” he says.


Egg prices not expected to drop anytime soon

eggsConsumers are still seeing egg prices climb after the avian influenza outbreak that sidelined a good portion of Iowa’s poultry producers.

More than 31 million birds had to be euthanized at 77 operations in 18 Iowa counties. Shayle Shagam a livestock analyst at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says wholesale egg prices recently hit a new high of $2.29 a dozen, almost doubling in two months.

“Prices on May 1st were about $1.18 a dozen,” Shagam says. “If you go back and you compare it to a year ago, we had prices about $1.37 a dozen.” Shagam says egg prices will likely remain high for up to a year because it will take that long for the poultry facilities to replace their chicken populations.

Shagam says food manufacturers rely on so-called “breaker egg” producers and they were hit hard by loss. Now, those food makers are buying up eggs from the consumer market, boosting prices.

Many Iowa turkey producers have also been impacted by the bird flu outbreaks. Shagam says turkey production will be down about 7 percent for the second half of this year, which is a big about-face.

“In the first quarter of 2015, production was actually about 7% higher,” he says. Also, supplies of frozen turkeys are up so consumers may only be paying slightly more per-pound compared to last year. “Tom turkeys were up 11% and hen turkeys 13% from a year ago,” Shagam says. Predictions call for turkey prices to increase about 6-cents a pound from a year ago.

Lower gas prices in Iowa expected to spur more Independence Day travel

Car-passing-carMany Iowans will be celebrating their freedom this coming holiday weekend by hitting the open highway for a road trip. Mark Peterson, with AAA-Iowa, says they’re predicting a big boost in Fourth of July travel.

“AAA is projecting 41.9 million Americans will be traveling 50 miles or more from home this Independence Day,” Peterson says. “That’s the most since 2007. Independence Day is typically the busiest summer travel weekend for us. We think the rising income driven by a strong employment market is prompting more Americans to take a holiday trip this year.”

He says there’s another reason so many Iowans will be on the road… “We think travel numbers will be increasing because we’re looking at some of the lowest gas prices we’ve seen in five years on any previous 4th of Julys,” Peterson says. “We’re looking at a difference in price of about 90 cents across the board and with that, we’re going to be seeing a lot more people out there traveling.”

The statewide average price for gas is $2.71, down from $3.54 a year ago. With so many people on the roads, Independence Day weekend is also one of the most dangerous times to be on the highway. During the holiday last year, seven people were killed on Iowa’s roads.

“With the 4th of July, one of the deadliest holidays of the year, we’ll be asking our travelers to do their due diligence and make a few plans,” Peterson says. “If you can leave a little bit earlier, by all means, do so, or at the tail end of the trip, if you can take a little more time coming in or travel even possibly the next day and break up that time and get away from some of the masses that are traveling.”

Also, don’t try to make an exceptionally long drive home in one day, if possible. He suggests trying to break that up into two days to avoid fatigue. Of all people who will be vacationing this weekend, he says nearly 85-percent of travelers will be in motor vehicles.


Population of trumpeter swans continues to increase

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter swans disappeared from Iowa’s waterways and skies more than a century ago when 1800s-era pioneers shot them because they were worried the big white birds would eat their crops. Since then, the majestic swans have been reintroduced to the state.

Wildlife technician Dave Hoffman, at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the numbers have been slowly increasing over the past two decades. Hoffman says, “The cool part is that the volunteers are responsible for bringing the trumpeters back to Iowa with our first swans released in 1995 and the very first nest was in ’98.”

Hoffman says an important part of the restoration effort is to count the birds, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for volunteers to report any swan sightings. Survey forms can be found on the Iowa DNR’s website. Hoffman says the survey, conducted once every five years, helps track the bird’s habits.

“Especially any nesting swans, especially with any young swans, called cygnets, and also the number of young cygnets that fledge or fly into the fall as well,” Hoffman says, “and then we also keep track of the number that are wintering and coming into the state each fall and winter as well.” Hoffman says there were 46 trumpeter swan nests recorded across the state last year.



Fundraiser planned for family of slain Omaha police officer

Officer Kerrie Orozco was fatally shot May 20th .

Officer Kerrie Orozco was fatally shot May 20th.

A fundraiser is planned this weekend to benefit the family of the Omaha police officer who was killed last month. The first female police officer to die in the line of duty in Omaha history, 29-year-old Kerrie Orozco was fatally shot May 20th while serving an arrest warrant.

The suspect was also killed. Officer Orozco was a Walnut, Iowa, native and a resident of Council Bluffs. Her partner of two years was Officer Kevin Wiese who says Orozco was one in a million.

“I loved working with her because she could talk with people,” Wiese says. “She had that ability to connect with anybody so when we did get into hairy situations, she could calm people down instead of amping things up. It was really nice, as her partner, because it kept things safe for us and for the people we were dealing with. Everybody who knew her knew she had a heart of gold. I really miss Kerrie a lot.”

She left behind a husband, two stepchildren and a newborn baby girl. That new daughter, Olivia, was born several months premature in February and was due to come home from the hospital the day after Orozco was killed. Wiese says he can only imagine the heartache felt by Orozco’s husband.

“I know Hector is a Christian man and he’s been working through things and he’s a solid, solid, solid guy and his faith is solid as well,” Wiese says. “It’s helped but it’s not easy, working through something like this. We’re just trying to make everything else as easy on him as possible.”

The Omaha Police Officers’ Association is holding a “Kerrie On” benefit for the Orozco family on Sunday. There are several bands playing, there will be live and silent auctions, raffles, kids’ activities, food, a community fair, a 3-K walk and 5-K run. All proceeds will benefit Officer Orozco’s family.

“We also have booths set up for the things Kerrie was passionate about,” Wiese says. “Special Olympics will be there, the Boys and Girls Club and our baseball team will show up, Girls Incorporated, Teammates mentoring program. We want to give people an opportunity to learn about the things Kerrie was passionate about, how she was involved and hopefully inspire others to get involved like she was.”

The event will be held at Ralston Arena in Omaha on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.