Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas Public Media is a regional journalism collaboration funded by KUAR 89.1 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

More than 150 wood pellet manufacturing mills operate across the U.S., many supplying the domestic woodstove pellet market with home heating fuel.

More than a quarter are industrial pellet mills, grinding thousands of acres of forest into biomass for overseas export to electrical utilities stoking retrofitted coal-fire furnaces with "densified" wood.

The largest mills, concentrated in the southeastern U.S., claim to sustainably harvest timber, from both hardwood and softwood forests. But a new mill, Highland Pellets in Pine Bluff, which harvests only fast-growing Southern softwood pine may be among the greenest.

Still, the calculated ecological costs and benefits of forest biomass remain hazy.


In Brinkley, halfway between Memphis and Little Rock, Sandra Kemmer is volunteering in a local cafe to promote the area’s economy by giving out rice products on metal trays.

“Hey ya’ll. You can have some cookies when you come back; it’s rice month,” she tells a couple passing by her stand.

Agriculture is the center of life here, but for decades rural towns like Brinkley have been dwindling and with them a linchpin of daily life, the town newspaper.

Rice industry leaders have announced a plan to form a task force to look into whether voluntary smoke management guidelines can help reduce tension between farmers who use field burns to clear residue after the harvest, and residents who say the smoke aggravates asthma symptoms. 

The task force  will use a model based on smoke management guidelines for forestry landowners.

“They’ll use it as a template but draft smoke management  guidelines that are voluntary but more applicable for agriculture, specifically with crops,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation.

Arkansas soybean farmers who rely on a chemical called Dicamba to kill weeds must stop using it during the growing season next year. That’s because it has allegedly been drifting to neighboring farms and killing crops.

On the eve of a major decision by the state over the controversial weed killer dicamba, tensions are running high in Arkansas’s farming communities.

“This is probably the most divisive the agricultural community has ever been,” said Shawn Peebles, an organic farmer in Augusta. 

Peebles said he hasn’t personally sustained damage from dicamba drift but he is experiencing issues with companies no longer wanting to do business with Arkansas growers due to concerns about residue from the weed killer.  

Thirty cents of every health care dollar is wasted, according to speakers at a recent “Cost of Health Care in Arkansas” symposium at the UA Little Rock Bowen School of Law.  What accounts for some of the waste? Unnecessary procedures with substantial costs that usually offer little or no health benefit to the patient.  

Examples of low-value care include unnecessary diagnostic imaging, vitamin D screenings, annual electrocardiograms (EKG) for patients without symptoms or risk factors, antibiotics for a simple respiratory infection and aggressive treatment for lower back pain before it has a chance to improve through rest and gentler therapies.

Patients themselves may have to put a stop to low-value care, says Dr. Joe Thompson with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

“They have the most skin in the game, so to speak,” he said.

Clean Line Energy Partners, headquartered in Houston, Texas intends to build five long-haul, high-voltage clean power transmission lines across at least 10 states. 

Together, the “Clean Lines” could transport more than 15,000 megawatts of new industrial wind energy generated in Kansas, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma to utility markets across the eastern half of the U.S. 

But progress along all the clean lines, including a controversial route through Arkansas, remains tangled by opposition.

Victims of Hurricane Maria are weighing the possibility of a fresh start in Arkansas this winter.

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is among a handful of schools on the United States’ mainland offering tuition help to Puerto Rican students whose universities were damaged and closed after the storm.

In 2004, a Harvard graduate, Michelle Kuo, arrived in the Mississippi Delta town of Helena-West Helena as a volunteer teacher. While spending two years teaching at an alternative school for students with disciplinary issues, Kuo struck up a friendship with Patrick Browning, a quiet student who did well in her class. A few years later, Kuo returned to Helena to read with Patrick again: this time in the visitation room of the county jail, where Patrick was being held on a charge of murder.

When the winds are just right on an October afternoon, clouds of smoke can be seen from the rural highways of Mississippi County. 

Once in a while, an out-of-state motorist calls 911 to report a fire, but most people who live and work in the county are familiar with the phenomenon.  It’s agricultural burning, a widely used but controversial practice that allows the farmers to clear their fields quickly after a harvest and get ready for the next season.

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