Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Statute of Limitations Bars Partition Action

Thacker v. Thacker, No. 06-1766 (Iowa Ct. App. June 13, 2007).

James and Robert Thacker were farm partners for many years. They bought a farm on contract in 1972 and were given a warranty deed to James and Robert Thacker in 1987 to the property. In 1987 James, Robert, and Frances, Robert's wife granted an undivided interest in the property to Robert and Frances.

Questions were raised about the deed but nothing was ever done about it, and James died in 2004. James' heirs filed an action for partition and the district court found that the 1987 conveyance to Robert and Frances was unambiguous and that the ten year statute of limitations barred the petition. The district court granted summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that James had actual knowledge of an alleged problem or mistake concerning the deed and contacted an attorney in 1994, but no action was ever taken. That invoked the discovery rule and the ten year period ran in March or April 2004 barring a claim to title filed in 2005.

Justice Sackett dissented.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Biofuels: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Reuters reports this day in an interview with Gustavo Best the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Best opines that biofuels-ethanol and biodiesel-done right can bring benefits to the food industry, but that there is significant risk to the 850 million people who are underfed.

Biofuels are a viable alternative to petroleum fuels if the price of crude oil remains above $40 per barrel, it is said, and they are also carbon neutral. The problem that Best sees is that a biofuel driven increase in the price of grains and vegetable oils may put additional pressure on the poorest among us.

FAO has published a comprehensive report on the subject of bioenergy that is worth a look. Although there is the danger that biofuel crop production could impact the availability of food crops for the poor, the report suggests that if biofuel crop production is properly managed it may actually make food more available for the poor. Second generation biofuel production from cellulose may mitigate this trend.

Significant price increases have been noted in all the crops now used for biofuel production and the types of foods that are normally produced-sugar, molasses, corn, soya, and other edible oils crops. Although this is not necessarily an issue in the US or Europe, it is an issue in the global village. If farmers in the third world start shifting over to growing diesel fuel, the effects on poor people are going to be problematic.

There is also an ethical construct that's hard to avoid, and that is the advisability of burning food to run Cadillac Escalades in Los Angeles and BMWs doing 200 kph on the autobahn. I've also felt that way about the corn stoves that people were selling a couple winters ago when the price of natural gas went skyward and I had a $300 bill every month from Count Dracula's son Midamerican Energy to heat the headquarters of this gigantic empire.

The idea of burning food runs right into what Brother Dave of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference talks about when he refers to eating as a moral, ethical and political act. It's an uncomfortable feeling.

Here on the prairie, we've seen a doubling in the price of corn and a shift away from soya acreage to plant more corn for the ethanol plants on the edge of town that are springing up like mushrooms on the lawn after a rain.

On the other hand, one of my spies in the commodities trade tells me that many of the new ethanol stills are contracted for less than half of their projected needs over the next few years. This makes me think that the ethanol people either think there will be a major price decline as the new corn acreage comes on line this fall, cellulosic ethanol is going to be a reality, or else they're going to get their asses handed to them. Time will tell.

Perhaps some of this planting is in the nature of cashing in while the opportunity presents itself-farmers all know that good times don't last forever.

Either way, for cattlemen and hog producers there's a shift away from feeding corn in favor of distiller's grains, which is one reason why there's a benefit to corn based biofuels that's not well understood outside the farm belt.

It is a good feed, but careful attention must be paid to the science of feeding so as to obtain the maximum benefit while maintaining the quality of the finished animal.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Order 81 Controversy: Much Ado About Nothing, Redux

It appears I've been taken to task for my views on this subject by one Benno Hansen, a fellow from Denmark. He has posted a comment and links to his blog below, wherein he makes much of the fact that I moderate comments before I allow them to be posted and sometimes it takes a while to get a 'round tuit' as we say.

Benno thinks I'm a stooge for Monsanto and an apostle of corporate greed.

It also seems that the sponsors of his blog are on my ISP's list of problem spammers, and my emails have gone unanswered, or else I would have posted my comments to the blog of this self confessed spammer. So be it. I am not interested in spending half the morning getting Mediacom to unblock the site just for l'il ole me.

Here's the substance of my remarks.

Benno, there are no conspiracies here-only differences of opinion. You need not be catty or supercilious-it does not add to the fund of mutual knowledge.

While I am honored that the ramblings of this country lawyer appeared momentous and threatening enough to be remarked on in the great nation of Denmark, let me clarify a few items for the record.

I am not a corporate stooge in the service of the Great Satan Monsanto.

I am not trying to cram GMOs down the throats of poor farmers in their loincloths.

I live in a modest apartment.

I drive a 20 year old Mitsubishi pickup truck with 240,000 km on the clock. That is what you call living the recycling lifestyle.

I have a mountain of debt for my education that in all likelihood will outlive me.

I'm a struggling teacher and most of my clients are indigents charged with criminal offenses.

I did not have a college degree until the age of 45.

I have to mow the lawn today to keep the landlord happy.

I'm teaching myself welding.

I have kids and grandkids.

My knees hurt going up the stairs at the courthouse.

I spent most of my working life as a factory worker, auto parts clerk, millhand, and tow truck driver.

I vote Democratic.

My working class credentials are, to put it bluntly, impeccable.

I also have a master in laws degree in agricultural law from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. It is the only such program in the US and maybe the entire world, judging from the number of foreign students that attend. I also work with the Drake University agricultural law center from time to time on projects of interest to the Director.

So I know a little about agriculture, law, legislation and policy. In fact. I've been published on such subjects a number of times.

I have three clients that are corporations.

One is a farmer's cooperative that raises Berkshire hogs on grass.

(Parenthetically, organizing that was a real experiment in how democracy works for people who work with their hands. I may write about it some day).

One is a nonprofit that provides mental health services to people in rural America.

One is a small electroplating shop run by an expat Austrian.

That's it, folks. No Great Satan here. Just a working stiff on temporary desk duty trying to make a living.

I also know a manufactured controversy when I see one, and that's what this is all about.

But don't take my word for it. In fact, don't take anyone's word for it.

Read CPA 81 Article 3 for yourselves. Make up your own mind about whether it's a war crime as Benno Hansen thinks, or whether there are more important things to waste time over.

If you think it's a war crime, stop by to collect your aluminum foil hats and Koolaid.