November 27, 2014

State Ag Secretary says farmers have lots to be thankful for

Bill Northey

Bill Northey

Thanksgiving is a time for farmers to look back on the harvest and review their work. Iowa Ag Secretary, Bill Northey, says there is plenty to be thankful for. “For most farmers in Iowa, we had awful good crops. We had some spots that weren’t…there’s lots and lots of fields out there that all yield different. For some of those fields, we had the best crops ever,” Northey says. “Certainly farmers are very thankful for that.”

Northey says the value of the crop has changed in the last year. “Prices now are different than they were at the beginning of the year or the end of last year, so they’ve softened up some. But the yields certainly help and that’s definitely one of the things a farmer is looking for when he plants his crop in the spring,” according to Northey.

There’s also hope that the prices will see some rebound. “Sometimes we see kind of an after harvest bump. Once folks store the crop away it takes usually a better price for them to go to the bin and pull it out. They put it in the bin with the expectation of seeing a better price, and we’ll see if that does happen or not, but often we see a little bounce coming out of harvest,” Northey says.

There’ll be several new federal lawmakers in the new year and Northey says that could impact trade deals and other issues impacting farmers. “I think we have a congress that in general that would be slightly more friendly to trade in both chambers, certainly in the senate, than what it once was,” Northey says. “We are still waiting on an RFS, a renewable fuel standard number for 2014… I don’t know that we would expect any help out of congress for that.”

Northey says with the makeup of the state legislature staying pretty much the same, he doesn’t expect to see any major legislation this year that would impact farmers. Northey operates a farm near Spirit Lake.

Governor Branstad talks about importance of Thanksgiving

Governor Branstad (left) helps a granddaughter at the turkey pardon ceremony.

Governor Branstad (left) helps a granddaughter at the turkey pardon ceremony.

Governor Terry Branstad will be hosting his family’s Thanksgiving celebration today.

“Thanksgiving is a special holiday, it’s truly an American holiday where we really celebrate the founding of our nation, the pilgrims coming to America, the hardships that they overcame,” Branstad says. He says the holiday is a time to reflect on what we have.

“I think it’s also an important time for us to just say thanks to everyone who has done so much to give us the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy in this country — especially our military veterans,” according to Branstad.

The governor will be joined by his wife Chris, his kids and grandkids and some special friends for the holiday. He has this message for Iowans. “We wish a very blessed and enjoyable Thanksgiving to all Iowa families,” Branstad says.

Branstad pardoned two turkeys earlier this week in an annual ceremony, but he does plan to have the traditional turkey on his plate for the big dinner. “I’m a white meat eater, and my role is carving the turkey. Chris basically prepares it and I carve it,” Branstad explains. “We have other members of the family bring other food items as well.”

The governor is attending the annual community Thanksgiving service at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines today where parishioners dress in period garb. That service begins at 10 A.M.


Tale of Motown music-making legend makes one stop in Iowa

Jarran Muse

Jarran Muse

The story of how a featherweight boxer became a heavyweight music mogul will be sung on a central Iowa stage next week as the touring Broadway production of “Motown the Musical” makes one stop in the state.

Singer and actor Jarran Muse says Berry Gordy beat incredible odds and created the soundtrack of change in America.

“It’s the story of how Mr. Gordy created Motown the label and the sound and how he got his start,” Muse says, “but more importantly, it is the love story between Gordy and Diana Ross, mixed in with the other legends that he made famous.”

Gordy launched the careers of several top recording artists, including Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

“I am not old enough to have experienced Motown first hand, but I feel like being an American, Motown is the music that everyone grew up to,” Muse says. “My parents listened to Motown music as I was growing up and that’s the music that I associated with. I didn’t even know Motown was a label. I just knew the artists.”

Muse is a New Jersey native and plays the role of singer Marvin Gaye in the production. Gaye died at age 44 in 1984, long before the Internet became popular. While Gaye’s music lives on, Muse says there isn’t much in the way of video.

“Thankfully, we live in a generation where YouTube is at your fingertips,” Muse say. “I got what I could from those video clips, watching old concerts, watching old interviews so I could hear how he sounded and try to get a little more insight to him.”

While the show was being created, Muse says he also had the tremendous bonus of being able to talk one-on-one with Gordy about Gaye, as they were brothers-in-law.

More than 40 Motown songs are featured in the musical, including, “Dancing in the Streets,” “My Girl,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

It plays the Des Moines Civic Center December 2nd through the 7th.



Juvenile life sentence challenged

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Attorneys for some inmates serving life sentences in Iowa prisons are keeping an eye on a case before the Iowa Supreme Court. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme court have ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders amount to “cruel and unusual punishment” and are unconstitutional. So far, in Iowa, 21 individuals who were sentenced to a mandatory term of life in prison for crimes committed as teens have been resentenced — usually to life with the possibility of parole.

Now, Story County Judge James Ellefson has broken that pattern for one-time teen offender Yvette Louisell. Louisell, now 43-years-old, was sentenced for the stabbing death of a disabled Ames man back in 1988 when she was 17. Ellefson took the unusual step of resentencing Louisell to 25 years with credit for time served, essentially granting her parole. Corwith Ritchie, executive director of the Iowa County Attorneys Association, is upset with the judge’s decision. “That court was just reaching out in thin air and imposing a 25 year sentence,” Ritchie said. “There’s nothing in the current statute, as it stands, that provides for that.”

Louisell’s parole is on hold while the Iowa Attorney General’s office appeals the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. The court has heard oral arguments and could rule at any time. In the meantime, the county attorneys want the legislature to come up with new sentencing options for teen offenders.

Teresa Ellickson recently testified at a legislative hearing on the matter. Back in 2002, Ellickson’s brother Greg Walls was brutally killed in a robbery gone bad after he delivered a pizza to a Marion apartment. David Keegan, then 17-years-old, was convicted in adult court and sentenced to life in prison without parole. “I felt relieved when the sentence came down because I felt like we were done with the judicial process and he would be in jail forever,” Ellickson said. But, she says hearing Keegan might be eligible for parole sent her into a tailspin.

House Judiciary committee chair, Republican Chip Baltimore, says lawmakers have tried for several years to come up with new sentencing guidelines for teen offenders who previously would’ve been sentenced to life in prison. “You know, how many years must a juvenile, serve short of life, before they’re eligible for parole? We simply could not reach agreement on that,” Baltimore said.

Gordon Allen is the attorney for Yvette Louisell. He has asked the Story County Judge to correct what is in effect an illegal sentence for Louisell. “In the situation where the legislature has refused to act, in the situation where the Board of Parole has not provided a meaningful and realistic opportunity, and since we have a factual finding that she is rehabilitated and is not a security risk, why is she still incarcerated?” Allen said.

Parole board members don’t comment on cases and the Iowa Attorney General’s office declined to be interviewed. But, their case maintains that when the judge bypassed the parole board, that violates the separation of powers for the three branches of government. However the court rules in the Louisell case, it can’t be appealed. The case involves the Iowa Constitution, so the Iowa Supreme Court has the final word.

By Joyce Russell, Iowa Public Radio


Deere expects net income to drop

Deere logoIowa’s largest manufacturing employer is expecting a further decline in equipment sales. The Moline, Illinois-based Deere & Company predicts its annual net income will drop about 40% and revenue from ag and turf equipment — where it gets two thirds of its income — will fall further than it did in fiscal 2014.

The company says lower commodity prices are discouraging farmers from buying machinery. In the fourth quarter ended October 31st, the world’s largest farm equipment supplier says net income fell to $649 million from $806 million a year earlier. Revenue fell 5 percent to $9 billion. CEO Samuel Allen says the slowdown has been most pronounced in the sale of large farm machinery. Deere, which also manufactures construction equipment, is cutting jobs and production to match demand.

(Reporting by Phil Roberts, Davenport)


Most of state gets hit with snow

snow plow 1It’s one of the busiest travel days of the year and roads across most of Iowa’s western two-thirds are partly to completely snow covered — and the snow’s still coming down in many areas. Meteorologist Miles Schumacher, at the National Weather Service, says it’s getting deep across much of Iowa’s northern half.

“It’s looking like most places north of Highway 30 are generally in the three-to-five inch range,” Schumacher says, “no wind with it fortunately.” Some areas may see six inches of snow by this afternoon, though he says parts of southern Iowa are seeing very little accumulation. Snowfall is already starting to taper off for the state’s western half.

“It’s pretty much over from central Iowa on west,” Schumacher says. “We may get a little light snow during the afternoon but most of the accumulating snow is over with. Over the northeast half of the state, we’ll continue to get snow this morning, it’ll probably end around midday, except for the eastern third of Iowa. It will probably last until tonight before that ends.”

Roads are iffy in some areas. He recommends motorists keep the speed down and try to allow for more time, whether they’re heading across town or across the state. “Temperatures aren’t really all that cold,” Schumacher says. “It will probably be a little tough across the north. During the day, generally, we tend to get some improvement. Over the southwest half of the state, temperatures will be right up around freezing so I would imagine road crews will get roads in pretty fair shape over the southwest half.”

Find the latest forecast at and see travel advisories at


Northeast Iowa cheese plant expanding

The operators of a northeast Iowa cheese plant are preparing to expand. Swiss Valley Farms CEO Don Boelens says they’re putting nearly $21 million into the plant in Luana. “We’re basically replacing some aging cheese-making equipment, and in the process we’ll expand the capacity and capability to do different type of cheeses in the process,” Boelens says.

The company received $465,000 in direct financial assistance from the state along with some tax benefits. Boelens says the expansion is expected to be completed in 2016. “We’re in the process of doing the final engineering for all the things we want to do. We will probably break ground sometime this summer… and it takes about 18 months in some cases for some of the equipment, so if we do that it will be near the end of 2016 by the time it’s all completed,” Boelens says.

He says the expansion won’t be a big impact to their workforce. “It’s actually preservation of existing jobs, now long-term there may be some additional jobs added, but in the short-term it will be just updating the equipment and just making sure that the plant is prepared to move us into the future,” Boelens says. The plant now employees 89 people.

The milk used in the cheese-making process comes from an area that’s in a 90-mile radius of the plant, but the final product can end up thousands of miles away.”Most of it goes inside the U.S., but there actually is some of it that gets exported,” Boelens says. “We export products to 27 different countries. We actually make cream cheese in the plant and that’s one of the products that we export.”

The plant now also makes Swiss, Baby Swiss, Gouda, Neufchatel and Sweet Whey. The expansion will allow them to make Maasdam, Havarti and Muenster, and increase the production of cream Cheese and whey.