Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. March 25, 2023.

Editorial: Kansas and Missouri have a major stake in the 2023 US Farm Bill. It’s our food future

Members of Congress writing the 2023 U.S. Farm Bill should remember three things:

— Hunger in America is a serious problem.

— Climate change requires adjustments in farming practices.

— Missouri and Kansas have many resources to help produce a sensible law.

As for hunger: The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that just over 10% of U.S. households (30-plus million people) suffer from “food insecurity.” Having malnourished people in our rich nation? Inexcusable.

The most costly part of the 2018 Farm Bill was SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once called food stamps. Of the estimated $428 billion to be spent over five years, some $326 billion is going to SNAP.

That program has kept millions of Americans from persistent hunger and helped create a reliable market for farm products. But SNAP’s very existence is an indictment of aspects of our economic system, which doesn’t work for everyone. Children and their parents, after all, aren’t malnourished because they want to be, but because adults don’t have jobs that pay them enough.

Congress must guarantee SNAP’s continuation but also insure its benefits reach the truly needy and that the food they buy is nutritious. It also will need to consider whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s current crop commodity programs are adequate and whether changes are needed in federal crop and livestock insurance.

As for climate change: A policy shift is needed to move from the now decades-old trend toward corporate-led farming to more sustainable, nimble farming. The new bill should encourage small scale answers to food insecurity, such as community gardens, farmers’ markets and organic and other farming techniques.


And as for resources Missouri and Kansas can offer lawmakers:

Since its founding in 1976, the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, has been working on new farming methods, including perennial versions of such crops as wheat and barley that now usually are planted annually. Perennials can reduce soil erosion, enhance water and environmental quality and even make farming more profitable. Some institute efforts are paying off both here and around the world.

The 501(c)(3) nonprofit institute has shown that perennials lower costs and have deep roots that reduce soil erosion and trap more carbon, benefiting the environment. Indeed, more than a decade ago, the institute proposed not a five-year farm bill, but one that would guide policy for 50 years. That document noted that “essentially all of nature’s ecosystems feature perennial plants growing in species mixtures and that they build soil. Agriculture reversed that process nearly everywhere by substituting annual monocultures.” The result has been damaging.

As Wes Jackson, Land Institute co-founder, is fond of saying, “We’ve been farming wrong for 10,000 years.” That’s the kind of visionary thinking the new farm bill needs.

The bill’s chapters are called “titles.” The 2018 version had 12 of them, including conservation, nutrition, trade and rural development. A title in the new bill should address the kind of work done by the Land Institute and other groups seeking innovative ways to lessen the dominance of Big Farma (companies such as Monsanto and others).

Lawmakers also should learn from other Midwest agriculture experts. For instance, since 1986 the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri has, as its website notes, provided “decision makers with information about how changes in policies or market conditions affect the agricultural sector.”

Another area land grant college, Kansas State University, does cutting-edge research through its College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension. Ernie Minton, K-State’s agriculture dean, says it’s “absolutely key” that the new farm bill provide $1 billion a year for five years “to support the huge ($11.5 billion) deferred maintenance problem with buildings across the entire land-grant system. K-State has its share of atrocious buildings in the College of Agriculture.”


As lawmakers also consider the role of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which are found in some foods, consumers should educate themselves about them. GMOs are controversial, but there’s often more smoke than fire.

For instance, Monsanto has developed genetically modified corn seed that’s not susceptible to the chemical glyphosate, found in the corporation’s weed-killing herbicide Roundup. Glyphosate has scared people, but as scientist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson notes in his book “Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization,” nicotine, caffeine and plain old table salt are more lethal to human beings than glyphosate. So it’s time to pay more attention to science when considering GMOs — and to recognize that the real issue is who owns the modified genomes and how their benefits can be made available to all.

Our region is in the heart of America’s food supply system. So citizens should tell lawmakers what they want in the new farm bill. The House and the Senate each plan a draft bill with a final version emerging in negotiations. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, sits on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, while Rep. Mark Alford, a Missouri Republican, is on the House Committee on Agriculture. (Missing from the picture today is former Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who always played an important role in farm bills.)

Bad agricultural practices contributed to the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s, while good practices have filled American grocery stores with reliable sources of nutrition. The new farm bill should focus on those good practices, especially in light of a new United Nations report saying “our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 26, 2023.

Editorial: The EPA cracks down on Missouri and other pollutant-exporting states

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a “good neighbor” rule last week that probably should have been implemented decades ago. In deference to states’ rights, the federal government had backed away from enforcing pollution rules when smokestacks in one state send pollutants to a neighboring state. It never made sense, and it’s about time someone stepped in to force heavy polluters to clean up their act.

The St. Louis area is a prime example of why a crackdown is needed. Coal-fired power plants on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River often export their pollutants when the wind is right, while steel mills and other industries in East St. Louis and Granite City contribute to St. Louis’ air problems. A recent study reported by the Guardian newspaper mapped dangerous particulate levels across north St. Louis and East St. Louis, justifying the EPA’s designation of Missouri among 23 states ordered to reduce air pollution levels.

Of course, the agency’s crackdown has prompted blowback from predictable sources. The coal-mining industry and coal-burning power companies hate it. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, complains that enforcement action could cause electricity prices to go up. Manchin is hardly a neutral observer on this issue, having significant family financial interests in West Virginia coal mining operations.

The National Mining Association’s Conor Bernstein warns: “With each rule that targets well-operating coal plants — the very same plants that are called on to keep the lights on when renewables or natural gas are unavailable and consumer demand soars — our electricity grid becomes increasingly vulnerable to crippling supply shortfalls.”

At some point in America’s energy future, though, hard choices will have to be made. The nation cannot continue to rely on planet-warming fossil fuels if the nation has any hope of meeting its pledges to meet greenhouse-gas reduction goals.


Jefferson City News Tribune. March 26, 2023.

Editorial: Missouri sees jump in youth workforce

After-school or summer jobs can bring back fond memories to many adults who remember the life skills they learned and the pride and independence they felt with some hard-earned cash in their pocket.

That rite of passage has the ability to shape a young person’s life and career choices by instilling in them the discipline and drive to succeed in the workplace.

But it can also have a more ominous side, and we’re seeing it as more Missouri employers are turning to younger workers to fill employment gaps and, in turn, violating child labor laws.

Why are we seeing such a jump in hiring of youths, as well as an increase in child labor law violations?

Missouri began recording record low unemployment rates starting in June and July 2022, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. After bottoming out at 2.4% in September, the state jobless rate has climbed to around 2.6-2.8% in months since.

“To get warm bodies, they (employers) are being forced to hire young kids for these initial jobs,” said Todd Smith, director of the division of labor standards for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

More than 3,100 Missouri teenagers ages 14 and 15 joined the workforce in 2022. It’s a 45% increase from 2021, according to data from the state labor department. The number of youth work permits jumped from 6,997 to 10,152.

The same year-to-year comparison shows an increase of more than 250% in the number of youth employment complaints, which grew from 19 in 2021 to 67 in 2022.

Youth employment data for 2022 show more than 2,200 workers between the ages of 14 and 18 were injured seriously enough that the incident had to be reported to the state’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.

The types of injuries reported largely haven’t changed from past years. Lacerations were the leading workplace injury reported among youths, followed by contusions (bruises), abrasions (scrapes), muscle strains and tears, burns and ligament sprains.

The retail trade industry reported the most number of minors with injuries, followed by the accommodation and food service industry and the health care and social assistance industry.

The state’s 67 child labor complaints doesn’t mean most employers are skirting the child labor laws; some of the increase could be due to the increase in the number of youths entering the workforce.