Archive for May 27, 2008

Florida Students Score Above National Average

JACKSONVILLE, FL — Florida students got another report card on Tuesday with the latest one showing they are scoring above the national average on math and reading.

The norm-reference test is used in making national comparisons with Florida students averaging 60 points in both subjects. A score of 50 means a student did the same or better than half the children in the nation.

Duval County is still working the numbers that evaluated students in grades four through ten.

“In most grade levels we are down one or two percentage points,” said Tim Ballentine who heads up research and evaluation for the Duval County Schools.

“It is not a significant decline,” said Ballentine.

The norm-referenced test is being phased out this year because of budget cuts by the state. Ballentine says Duval County is looking at testing options for next year.

The latest test scores are not used in determining a school’s grade by the state. Those grades are expected to be released by the Department of Education in July.

Source: First Coast News

A little background on this test: It was given later in the same week as the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). The FCAT determines whether the child will pass to the next grade, be in a remedial class, and/or whether he/she gets a high school diploma. The norm-referenced test comparing Florida students to other kids across the United States has no penalties/rewards attached. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here by observing that perhaps students weren’t putting forth their best efforts on this test (I was proctoring, but have first-hand knowledge of only that one class, of course).

I’m quite pleased that the children young men and women did as well as they did; however, they reported that the test was far easier than the FCAT. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the report for our county which always does better than Duval county and the state average.

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National Agriculture Summary 5/12/08 – 5/18/08

Corn: Producers had planted 73 percent of their corn acreage by the week’s end, 15 points behind last year and normal, respectively. Planting was nearly complete in North Carolina and Texas. Meanwhile, major planting efforts were evident in the northwestern Corn Belt and adjacent areas of the Great Plains, where 25 percent or more of the crop was planted during the week. When compared with normal, planting was delayed in all States except Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and North Dakota. The most significant planting delay was in Ohio, where rainfall accumulations of up to 4 inches allowed producers to plant only 2 percent of their corn acreage during the week. Corn acreage was 26 percent emerged, 33 points behind last year at this time and 30 points behind normal. Due to major planting delays, emergence was delayed in all States except Colorado, Michigan, and North Carolina. Very significant delays were apparent in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio, where emergence was more than 30 points behind the normal pace.
Soybeans: By week’s end, producers had planted 27 percent of the soybean crop, 25 points behind last year and 20 points behind normal. Planting was delayed in all soybean-producing States except Louisiana, Michigan, and North Dakota. In Illinois and Ohio, major delays were attributed to cool weather and heavy precipitation. When compared with normal, planting in Illinois and Ohio was delayed 38 and 41 points, respectively. Major planting efforts were made during the week in Iowa and North Dakota, where producers planted 30 and 42 percent of their crop, respectively.
Winter Wheat: Forty-nine percent of the winter wheat crop was at or beyond the heading stage, which was 14 points behind last year and 17 points behind the 5-year average. Nearly all of the wheat acreage in Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Oklahoma was at or beyond the heading stage. Elsewhere, heading had not begun in Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota, but was evident in all other States and varied between 26 and 85 percent heading or beyond. Heading was more than 30 points behind normal in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri, and was at or behind the usual heading pace in all other States except Arkansas, California, and North Carolina. Despite below-normal temperatures, the crop gained momentum during the week from the Great Plains into the central Corn Belt.
Cotton: Nearly half of the cotton crop had been planted by week’s end, which was 6 and 10 points behind last year and the 5-year average, respectively. Acreage sown reached 50 percent or more in all States except Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. The most significant planting efforts were evident in the Carolinas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, where producers were able to plant between 25 and 36 percent of their acreage during the week. Progress was behind normal in all cotton-producing States except California, Louisiana, and Missouri; in those States, planting was ahead of normal by 3 points. Planting progress fell farther behind normal in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, where cool weather and moderate to heavy rainfall prevailed.
Rice: Producers had planted 84 percent of their intended rice acreage, 7 points behind last year’s planting pace and 3 points behind the usual pace. Nearly all intended rice acreage had been planted in Texas and Louisiana. Progress elsewhere ranged from 75 to 85 percent complete. In California, producers were planting rice 35 points ahead of usual. Planting was delayed by 19 and 12 points, respectively, in Arkansas and Mississippi. The slow planting pace in the Delta also delayed emergence. With 60 percent of the U.S. acreage emerged, progress was 16 points behind last year’s pace and 14 points behind the 5-year average pace.

It appears most crops have been delayed in planting because of cool, wet weather. Hopefully we will not have an unseasonably early cold snap.

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Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin 5/20/08

FLORIDA: Topsoil moisture 41% very short, 40% short, 19% adequate.
Subsoil moisture 24% very short, 50% short, 26% adequate. Peanuts 62% planted, 39% 2007, 40% 5-yr avg. Potato harvest continued, tri county areas. Pecan bloom nearly complete, Jefferson County. Wheat harvest began; pastures remained stressed due to lack of rain, Santa Rosa County. Some vegetables looked good, others deteriorated due to dry, windy conditions. Winds burned local, mixed vegetable crops, Palatka. Cucumbers planted, Fort Pierce. In Starke, strawberry harvest was scheduled to finish last week. Suwannee Valley harvesting green beans, cucumbers, organic crops. Other vegetables marketed corn, egg plant, okra, peppers, radishes, tomatoes. Significant rainfall not recorded since April, citrus areas. Most trees look good with heavy foliage, healthy new fruit. Some trees showed afternoon wilt during hottest parts of day. Hedging, topping continued; other activities, spraying, mowing, brush removal, resetting. Growers combating greening by removing trees, attempting to control Psyllids with pesticides. Valencia processing maintained 6-million box level, with adequate availability remaining into June. Some processing plants plan to run Valencia oranges into second week of July. Large quantities of grapefruit utilization over, small amounts continue to trickle for several more weeks. Honey tangerine harvest over 100,000 boxes, mostly for processed market. Pasture feed 25% very poor, 35% poor, 25% fair, 15% good. Cattle condition 15% very poor, 20% poor, 35% fair, 30% good. Panhandle, north pasture condition very poor to good, most in poor condition. Pasture remained stressed due to lack of rain, grass not growing. Cattle condition poor to good, most in fair condition.
Central pasture condition very poor to good, most in poor condition. Pasture grass dry, crisp. Cattle condition mostly fair. Southwestern pasture very poor to good, most in very poor condition. Hot, dry conditions reduced pasture quality. More cows sold for slaughter to relieve grazing pressure. Many ranchers out of hay. Statewide cattle condition very poor to good, with most in fair condition.

GEORGIA: Days suitable for fieldwork 5.7. Topsoil moisture 12% very short, 29% short, 56% adequate, 3% surplus. Corn 1% very poor, 6% poor, 32% fair, 54% good, 7% excellent. Winter wheat 1% very poor, 5% poor, 27% fair, 48% good, 19% excellent; 3% harvested, 8% 2007, 5% avg. Apples 0% very poor, 0% poor, 9% fair, 27% good, 64% excellent. Hay 1% very poor, 10% poor, 44% fair, 43% good, 2% excellent. Onions 8% very poor, 8% poor, 43% fair, 40% good, 1% excellent; 69% harvested, 75% 2007, 61% avg. Peaches 11% very poor, 19% poor, 28% fair, 42% good, 0% excellent; 5% harvested, 3% 2007, 7% avg. Tobacco 0% very poor, 2% poor, 27% fair, 61% good, 10% excellent. Watermelons 0% very poor, 4% poor, 28% fair, 63% good, 5% excellent. Corn 1% silked, 1% 2007, 1% avg. Soybeans 29% planted, 14% 2007, 27% avg.; 15% emerged, 7% 2007, 13% avg. Sorghum 41% planted, 31% 2007, 35% avg. Pasture and hay field conditions made some improvements due to the rain. Wheat conditions also improved slightly. The top soil moisture, which had been decreasing, improved slightly with the rains. The high winds last week caused some breakage in commercial grape vines. There was some damage done to small grains from the storm. Some beef producers are still feeding hay due to dry conditions and slow grass growth. Other activities included spreading more poultry litter than normal due to high nitrogen prices.


My sheep here are good to overconditioned; I’ve been supplementing the limited pasture with *sigh* expensive grain and rotating them through the pastures. I consider it quite fortunate that the prolonged cool spring has meant that white clover is still growing in the pastures. However, at this time of year, I really shouldn’t have to give out supplemental feed at all except perhaps to the lambs.

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Iowa State Researchers Use Fungus to Improve Corn-to-Ethanol Process

AMES, Iowa — Growing a fungus in some of the leftovers from ethanol production can save energy, recycle more water and improve the livestock feed that’s a co-product of fuel production, according to a team of researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Hawai’i.

“The process could change ethanol production in dry-grind plants so much that energy costs can be reduced by as much as one-third,” said Hans van Leeuwen, an Iowa State professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and the leader of the research project.
Van Leeuwen and the other researchers developing the technology — Anthony L. Pometto III, a professor of food science and human nutrition; Mary Rasmussen, a graduate student in environmental engineering and biorenewable resources and technology; and Samir Khanal, a former Iowa State research assistant professor who’s now an assistant professor of molecular biosciences and bioengineering at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa — recently won the 2008 Grand Prize for University Research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers for the project.

“Those chosen for prizes by an independent panel of distinguished experts address the broad range of modern challenges inherent in providing life-nurturing services for humans and protection of the environment,” according to a statement from the academy. “… Their innovations and performance illustrate the essential role of environmental engineers in providing a healthy planet.”

The Iowa State project is focused on using fungi to clean up and improve the dry-grind ethanol production process. That process grinds corn kernels and adds water and enzymes. The enzymes break the starches into sugars. The sugars are fermented with yeasts to produce ethanol.

The fuel is recovered by distillation, but there are about six gallons of leftovers for every gallon of fuel that’s produced. Those leftovers, known as stillage, contain solids and other organic material. Most of the solids are removed by centrifugation and dried into distillers dried grains that are sold as livestock feed, primarily for cattle.

The remaining liquid, known as thin stillage, still contains some solids, a variety of organic compounds from corn and fermentation as well as enzymes. Because the compounds and solids can interfere with ethanol production, only about 50 percent of thin stillage can be recycled back into ethanol production. The rest is evaporated and blended with distillers dried grains to produce distillers dried grains with solubles.

The researchers added a fungus, Rhizopus microsporus, to the thin stillage and found it would feed and grow. The fungus removes about 80 percent of the organic material and all of the solids in the thin stillage, allowing the water and enzymes in the thin stillage to be recycled back into production.

The fungus can also be harvested. It’s a food-grade organism that’s rich in protein, certain essential amino acids and other nutrients. It can be dried and sold as a livestock feed supplement. Or it can be blended with distillers dried grains to boost its value as a livestock feed and make it more suitable for feeding hogs and chickens.

Van Leeuwen said all of that can save United States ethanol producers a lot of energy and money at current production levels:

Eliminating the need to evaporate thin stillage would save ethanol plants up to $800 million a year in energy costs.

Allowing more water recycling would reduce the industry’s water consumption by as much as 10 billion gallons per year. And it allows producers to recycle enzymes in the thin stillage, saving about $60 million per year.

Adding value and nutrients to the livestock feed produced by ethanol plants would grow the market for that feed by about $400 million per year.

And the researchers’ fungal process would improve the energy balance of ethanol production by reducing energy inputs so there is more of an energy gain.

Van Leeuwen estimated it would cost $11 million to start using the process in an ethanol plant that produces 100 million gallons of fuel per year. But, he said the cost savings at such a plant could pay off that investment in about six months.

The Iowa State research project is supported by grants of $78,806 from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program, and $80,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Iowa Biotechnology Byproducts Consortium.

The researchers have filed for a patent on the technology and are looking for investors to commercialize the invention. And while the process needs to be proven at larger scales, there are high hopes it can do a lot to improve the efficiency of ethanol production.

“We will be saving ethanol producers money and energy,” Pometto said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Source: Iowa State University

If people are determined to brew corn likker for their vehicles, having a more cost efficient process is certainly good.

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Texas District Lures Florida Teachers

Fort Worth salaries start at $44,500 — more than a 17th-year Hernando teacher with a master’s degree. The district gives credit for years of service in other places.

Florida’s sun and surf, traditional lures for teachers from frostier climes, may no longer make up for salaries that rank in the middle nationally.

Fort Worth officials said they chose Jacksonville because it’s a large metro area with a concentration of colleges and schools, which could help attract teachers with a range of experience.

Experts say resentment over salary issues is likely to fuel more turnover among teachers who are already sweating a high-stakes accountability system.

It could also stymie teacher recruitment and force recruiters — who still must find thousands of new teachers for this fall — to set their sights lower.


That bait is lookin’ mighty tasty.  Our district has already notified many that were hired last year “sorry, but we have to cut back and you’re the newest” and the ones that were not let go will have reduced/no raises and more expensive benefits (insurance) next year.  

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