Kansas

Rural School Districts Shortchanged In Rush To Attract Wind Turbine Investors

Dec 8, 2017
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Mark Buck can see some of the 314 turbines in Kansas’ largest wind farm from his office window in Medicine Lodge, where he is superintendent of the Barber County North School District.

The nearly $1 billion Flat Ridge project, built in two phases and owned in part by British Petroleum, spans 70,000 acres near the Oklahoma border in south-central Kansas. But unlike most other Kansas businesses, Flat Ridge pays no property taxes on its generators to fund local schools and other services.

File: Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

The delivery of federal food benefits for millions of low-income people is likely to change after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it’ll allow states more flexibility in how they dole out the money.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release that his agency wants states to try out programs that don’t increase the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) but instead promote job training and reduce waste and fraud. The news release said specifics will be provided in “the coming weeks.”

Frank Morris / File: Harvest Public Media

There’ve been five rounds of negotiations over the decades-old North American Free Trade Agreement in recent months, but little movement toward a re-imagining of the treaty with Canada and Mexico from which U.S. agriculture benefits greatly.

With President Donald Trump still threatening to pull the country out of NAFTA if his preferred updates aren’t made, senators in farm-intensive states increasingly are speaking out.

Companies that invest in wind energy production say the proposed tax reform bill passed last week in the U.S. House would cost the country jobs and investment.
Amy Mayer / file: Harvest Public Media

The tax reform bill passed Nov. 16 by the U.S. House could slow development in the wind energy sector by reopening a two-year-old deal.

One industry leader says they’ll need the Senate in their court to protect their current agreement, which phases out production and investment tax credits through 2020.

Two cowboys work the pens of cattle at a feedlot in southwest Kansas.
Peggy Lowe / Harvest Public Media

On a feedlot in far southwest Kansas, two cowboys on horseback move cattle on the high dusty plains, spread out like dozens of football fields stitched together with miles of fences. Their “Buenos dias! Buenos dias!” greetings mix with moos on a hot summer morning.

They’re two of the 400 employees who work on the feedlot, which is one of the largest in the U.S. in a state that ranks third in meat production. 

Montra Beeler may not be all that all, but she fills a huge role in the understaffed fire department in Cedar Vale, Kansas.
Frank Morris / for Harvest Public Media

If you pull a fire alarm in any large U.S. city, it's likely that paid firefighters waiting at a nearby station will quickly respond. But seven out of 10 American firefighters are volunteers. They cover vast sections of the country, making up an aging network that is increasingly understaffed and overworked.

Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

Expect challenges in the Midwest to so-called “ag-gag” laws, laws that criminalize certain forms of data collection and recording on farms and ranches, after a series of challenges have left Utah’s law permanently struck down and Wyoming’s on shaky ground.

On Wednesday, the Utah attorney general’s office said it would not appeal a federal judge’s decision to strike down the state’s law as unconstitutional, effectively killing the legislation.

“[Ag-gag] laws in states like Iowa and Kansas are crying out for a challenge at this point,” says University of Denver law professor Justin Marceau, one of the attorneys representing animal rights groups in the Utah case.

Since the Dillon's grocery store in St. John, Kansas, closed last year, residents have traveled 12 miles or more for their groceries.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

A brick building that was the only grocery store in St. John, Kansas, sits vacant, its glass doors covered with paper since it closed early last year.

St. John is the county seat of Stafford County in south-central Kansas, but it’s home to fewer than 1,300 people. Today, the closest grocery store is 12 miles away, in Stafford.

Sister Loretta Jasper cut the ribbon on the Neighbor to Neighbor drop-in center in Abilene, Kansas, in February.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

The social and health effects of isolation on some rural Kansas residents spurred three Catholic nuns to convert a storefront in Concordia, Kansas, into a drop-in center where women can find support and resources. 

Seven years after the center opened, two dozen women on average come through each day in the town of about 5,000 to socialize, do laundry, get a cooking lesson, or simply connect with others.

An Illinois farmer harvests his corn crop in this file photo. Average net farm income has tumbled in recent years.
Abby Wendle / Harvest Public Media

Of all the expensive machinery Tom Giessel worked during the 2017 wheat harvest, his favorite sits in the office of his home.

It’s a microfilm machine, the kind found in a high school library. Giessel uses it for his work as the historian of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest farm group.

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