The grim numbers keep building. The U.S. economy for the third quarter shrank and consumer confidence continues to erode just as the Christmas retail season gears up. Even-so factory orders for big-ticket items in October soared 12.8 percent. Sales of existing homes increased 5.5 percent.
Despite the glimmers of statistical comfort the future remains uncertain. A Federal Reserve survey of economic conditions found evidence of continued slowing in most of the nation's regions. It is likely the Fed will cut interest rates for an 11th time this year.
Against that economic backdrop the news this week focuses on disparate developments, ranging from an industrial push toward bio-fuels, a reassessment of ocean resources and a piece of good news, precipitation is now soaking the West and dampening some of the controversy provoked by drought.
In April of this year, Federal authorities closed the headgates on the Lake Klamath irrigation canal. The move left 180-thousand acres of farmland in the Klamath Basin high and dry. The cut-off was mandated when lake levels dropped low enough to threaten endangered salmon and suckerfish.
The Lake now appears to be on the mend. Rain and snow over the past week made Bureau of Reclamation officials believe the water will be high enough by the end of December to consider opening the floodgates for irrigation next year.
Recently released data from the University of British Columbia at Vancouver shows the wild catch of fish may actually be on the decline. BC researchers became suspicious when the amount of fish available for human consumption appeared lower than official country estimates would indicate. An accusing finger is being pointed squarely at China, where reporting inflated numbers for the catch had been commonplace in the past. China denies over-reporting as the catch is officially limited to 3.5 billion pounds of fish a year.
With California's coming ban on the fuel additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, or MTBE, ethanol producers are gearing up to cover the increased demand. MTBE, used in gasoline to successfully reduce air pollution in major metropolitan areas, was found to be a contributor to ground water contamination. Though not officially banned anywhere else, eleven states are planning to outlaw the petroleum- based additive.
The move is considered good news for the environment and farmers who are members of ethanol plant cooperatives. This year, almost 2-billion gallons of the grain-based fuel are expected to be fermented. For ethanol co-op members, production of the fuel additive gives a significant boost to the value of a bushel of corn.
Illinois-based ADM controls more than 1/3 of the nation's ethanol market. Company officials say the prospect of continuing large grain supplies and depressed commodity prices offers A-D-M and other ethanol makers great profit potential over the next five years.
Apparently others agree with that assessment. The price of A-D-M stock has risen 20 percent since September.