[imgcontainer] [img:shane-martin_snow-fence_120921-1024×724.jpeg] [source]Shane Martin[/source] Snow fence. [/imgcontainer]

New mortgage rules released Thursday might give smaller banks an advantage in lending, the Washington Post reports

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rules say that consumers can’t qualify for a loan if they have debts exceeding 43 percent of their income. But the Bureau exempted banks with less than $2 billion in assets from this standard.

“Community banks and credit unions did not cause the financial crisis,” Richard Cordray, the director of the consumer bureau, said Thursday during a speech in Baltimore. “Their traditional model of relationship lending has been beneficial for many people in rural areas and small towns across this country.”

“A long-term consequence of this rule is it could shift at least a certain class of borrowers toward community banks and away from the big national players because community banks will have more flexibility,” said Camden Fine, president and chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Snow Fences — Don Lipman in the Washington Post does a little research on snow fences

They are, he says, ancient technology. Archaeologists think they found a 20 foot section of snow fence near Stonehenge. So that gets back to at least 3,000 BC. Maybe it was used to drift snow in ways that made for easier water collection. Or maybe it was to keep people from seeing in.

Anyway, there’s more here about snow fences than you’re likely to want to know. Including this fact: For every foot in length of a 4-foot tall snow fence, 4.2 tons of snow are held back.

Farmland Prices Hold  — The price paid for Midwestern farmland has gone up 300 percent since 2000 and shows no signs of dropping in early 2013, reports DTN’s Marcia Zarley Taylor. 

Nobody predicted farmland prices would reach these levels — $17,000 an acre in one early January sale in Iowa. 

Vilsack a ‘Maybe’ — Here is the National Journal’s opinion on whether Tom Vilsack will stay as Ag Secretary. The Journal lists Vilsack as a “maybe.” 

Tom Vilsack could stick around to help implement Obama’s “detailed plan” for the rural economy. But he may also be replaced by someone with closer ties to Capitol Hill — someone like former Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, or current Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana and the chamber’s only working farmer. 

Environment and the New York Times — The New York Times is closing its environmental desk, eliminating the two editors who handled environmental coverage. The seven reporters covering the environment will be distributed to other desks around the paper. 

InsideClimate News reports this consolidation by the Times. This means a retreat on environmental coverage by the Times, which, like other newspapers, is having a hard time increasing revenues.

Rockefeller Retiring — West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring. He won’t run for re-election (it would have been his sixth senatorial campaign) in 2014. 

Rockefeller is 75. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito had already announced that she will run for his seat.

Rockefeller came to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer in 1964. He served in the state legislature, as president of West Virginia Wesleyan University, governor and senator.

“West Virginia has become my life and my cause,” Rockefeller told the AP. “I never, ever doubt what it is I’m trying to do. West Virginia provides that to me in the form of fantastically hard-working, tough, warm-hearted people.”

Food Waste — We waste over a billion metric tons of food a year, according to a new report. Maybe more. Maybe as much as half of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. 

Gun Sales and the President — The Kansas City Star’s Tony Rizzo reports that in “the four years since Barack Obama was first elected president in November 2008, an estimated 67 million firearms have been purchased in the United States. That’s more than were sold in almost seven years before his first election.” 

Weird Weather — It’s not just the U.S. that had wild weather last year. China had its coldest winter in 30 years; Britain had drought and flooding; it reached minus 50 in Eastern Russian; bush fires raged across Australia; and Pakistan had rare flooding in September. 

Abuse Hot Line — The Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition has opened a hotline to take anonymous calls about abused farm animals. The number is 800-252-0577. 

Iowa State University animal welfare specialists will investigate any complaint. 

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