October 21, 2014

State unemployment rate up to 4.6% in September

Workforce-DevelopmentThe Iowa Workforce Development agency is reporting the state’s unemployment rate rose to 4.6 percent in September from 4.5 percent in August. IWD spokesperson Kerry Koonce isn’t surprised. “You’re seeing transition between summer and fall employment, so we’ll frequently see a little bit of bump this time of year,” Koonce says.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent in September compared to 6.1 percent in August. The number of unemployed Iowans increased to 77,900 in September from 76,500 in August. There are roughly 3,000 more unemployed Iowans compared to a year ago.

Koonce says there was also an increase in the total number of working Iowans. “It jumped from 1,626,400 (in August) up to 1,629,700 (in September),” Koonce says. “That’s 33,000 higher than it was this time last year, so that’s still very strong improvement for the economy.”

Iowa’s construction sector added 1,600 jobs in September, following an “unexpected” loss of 1,200 jobs in August. Construction has added jobs in five of the last six months. Education and health services also added 1,300 jobs last month. “We did see some losses in trade and transportation (-1,000 jobs), with most of that in the transportation area,” Koonce says. “We also saw losses in leisure and hospitality (-1,600), which does tend to trend down this time of year.”

Employment in Iowa’s construction, health care, and finance sectors are at or near record levels, according to Koonce. Manufacturing trimmed 100 jobs last month, marking the fourth straight month that sector has cut employment in Iowa. “We saw large growth (in manufacturing) last year, so that’s just kind of leveling off,” Koonce says. Compared to one year ago, there are around 400 fewer jobs in Iowa’s manufacturing sector.

Escapee from Sioux City caught

Cletus Armell

Cletus Armell

A fugitive from northwest Iowa is back in custody. Cletus Armell was listed as an escapee from a Sioux City work release facility back on July 14.

The Iowa Department of Corrections reports the 42-year-old Armell was found in Dakota County, Nebraska over the weekend and is now booked in the Woodbury County Jail. Records show Armell previously escaped from a residential work release center in Sioux City in 2012.

He was captured a short time later. His original prison sentence in 2004 was for armed robbery.


Understudy to Norman Borlaug will accept the World Food Prize

Norman Borlaug with Sanjaya Rajaram working in a field in Mexico.

Norman Borlaug with Sanjaya Rajaram working in a field in Mexico.

The 2014 World Food Prize will be awarded tonight to plant scientist Sanjaya Rajaram with a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol. The 71-year-old Rajaram is a protégé of World Food Prize founder, Norman Borlaug.

“I describe Dr.Borlaug as not only a great scientist and agricultural leader, but also he was an exemplary plant breeder for us because…he was not only the director of the program, he was on the front line doing (work) himself,” Rajaram said. As a post-doctoral student, Rajaram worked with Borlaug in Mexico as he created disease-resistant strains of wheat which improved food security worldwide.

Rajaram remembers Borlaug as a “hard taskmaster” who worked long hours. “One thing I learned from him was that he was a highly determined person. He was not easy to give up. I mean, we would not always succeed and he’d keep insisting,” Rajaram said.

Borlaug, who died in 2010 at the age of 95, called Rajaram “the greatest present-day wheat scientist in the world.” Rajaram succeeded Borlaug as director of the wheat breeding program at CIMMYT. He’s credited with breeding 480 wheat varieties used in more than 50 countries.

Rajaram, who grew up in India, made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “River to River.” The World Food Prize Laureate Award Ceremony will be broadcast live on Iowa Public Television at 7 p.m. and will be preceded by a documentary about Borlaug at 6:30 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the World Food Prize.



West African leaders discuss Ebola at World Food Prize event

World Food Prize baners hanging at the State Capitol.

Leaders of a pair of West African countries, visiting Iowa for the World Food Prize events, say the Ebola crisis has not only taken thousands of lives, it’s also threatening to destroy their economies. Florence Chenoweth is the Minister of Agriculture in Liberia. She says most people in West Africa were not aware of the virus in the first critical months of the outbreak and many refused treatment.

“People are just now beginning to understand that (Ebola) is real and it kills,” Chenoweth said. Around 4,000 people have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the countries hardest hit by the disease. Joseph Sam Sesay is the Minister of Agriculture in Sierra Leone, which boasted one of the three fastest growing economies in the world before the Ebola crisis.

“Today, instead of a projected 11.3 percent annual economic growth rate for 2014, we later deflated that to 7 and today, we’re only anticipating something like three-percent,” Sesay said. Around two-thirds of the people in Sierra Leone are farmers with small operations and most are very poor.

The Ebola outbreak has exacerbated their struggles, according to Sesay, as neighboring countries are closing their borders and suspending trade. “Isolating the countries Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone has a more devastating effect,” Sesay said. “We are talking about the movement of goods and people, some of these are humanitarian.”

At a World Food Prize news conference in Des Moines Wednesday, Sesay made a direct appeal for U.S. agencies to further help his country. “The best, for me, is to fight the war where the war is and not to wait until it comes here,” Sesay said. “Please, we are appealing to you to really support us so we can stop this.”

Agencies in the U.S. have committed more than $400 million to efforts to fight Ebola and the U.S. Department of Defense is expected to provide another $1 billion in assistance. In recent weeks, an Iowa-based relief agency has sent 600,000 prepackaged meals to Liberia. Outreach Incorporated has a goal of providing one million meals to the country by the end of the year.


More snowplow cameras featured in updated DOT road conditions website


DOT plows clearing an Iowa interstate highway.

The Iowa Department of Transportation is implementing some changes designed to make winter-time driving safer for motorists. Craig Bargfrede, with the Iowa DOT’s Office of Maintenance, says that includes more cameras being mounted on snow plows.

Pictures from the “plow cams” will be posted online (trackaplow.iowadot.gov) in real time and allow people to see road conditions across the state. The DOT tested the plow cams on roughly 200 snow plows late last winter. Bargfrede says they’ll be doubling the effort this winter.

“We should have right at 400 plows outfitted with those plow cams,” Bargfrede says.

The DOT’s traditional winter season opened today and runs through April 15th. The agency has also made changes to the colors and definitions of road conditions on the website 511ia.org.

Orange icons on the map show the location of DOT snowplows.

Orange icons on the map show the location of DOT snowplows.

The color purple will be utilized to show roads on which “travel is not advised” because of snow and/or ice. Another new color, light-blue, will be used to show a road is “wet” and could turn slick with dropping temperatures.

The 511 website will continue to feature images and video from approximately 350 traffic cameras. An “Iowa 511″ phone app is available as well.

For more information, go to the DOT’s website.



GMO debate continues at World Food Prize event

The debate over genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — in food has been heating up in recent months. Robert Fraley, of crop-seed maker Monsanto, is often referred to as “the father of agricultural biotechnology.” Fraley says he’s convinced opponents of GMOs represent a small percentage of consumers.

“Those are extreme voices,” Fraley says. “As I travel and talk to audiences, the vast majority of people are in the middle.” Fraley is in Des Moines this week for the World Food Prize events. He was one of the winners of the 2013 World Food Prize. Fraley estimates that 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. population believe genetically modified foods are safe.

The latest issue of National Geographic magazine features a cover story about the role of genetics in food production. Dennis Dimick, Executive Environment Editor at National Geographic, says biotechnology is critical to solving the problem of feeding 9 billion people — the world’s estimated population by 2050.

“In a world where we need to improve productivity, things like drought, salt, and heat tolerant crops are so important and should be allowed to happen, even if they do involve the use of genetic engineering,” Dimick said Tuesday at the Iowa Hunger Summit, part of the World Food Prize. In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers should be required to label foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

In recent years, similar measures in California and in Washington state were narrowly rejected after millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto and other labeling opponents to defeat the campaigns.



World Food Prize event discusses impact of meat consumption

Nat'l-Geo-FoodThe growing global demand for meat was one of the issues discussed Tuesday at the World Food Prize event in Des Moines.

Dennis Dimick, Executive Environment Editor at National Geographic magazine, addressed a gathering of more than 600 Iowans and talked about the publication’s special series on “The Future of Food.”

Dimick says many experts question whether increasing meat consumption in developing countries is a good thing. They cite human health and environmental issues.

“How much meat is really necessary for a healthy diet? We know the more (meat) we eat, the more pressure there is on water, land, and energy resources,” Dimick said.

Craig Hill, president of Iowa Farm Bureau, defends the trend. He believes moderation in meat consumption is the key and adds the livestock industry will continue to improve feed conversion and its environmental footprint.

“We’ll have to learn to become more efficient, we’ll have to be better stewards, and we’re learning as we go,” Hill said. “All diets should include some type of high value protein like we have in our meats.”

The discussion was part of the eighth annual Iowa Hunger Summit, organized by the World Food Prize, which continues today in downtown Des Moines. World Food Prize officials report more than 1,300 people from 60 countries are in attendance.