Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Agriculture secretary says rural economy is 'fragile'; Tenn. farmer says opioids may be as big a threat as anything

In a hearing on the "State of the Rural Economy" before the House Agriculture Committee yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue acknowledged that farmers are having a tough time these days. "I wish there were better news but there is a lot of stress and a lot of duress on the farms today," Perdue said. He went on to praise the resiliency of American farmers, but said that "the state of the rural economy is fragile," Andy Eubank reports for Hoosier Ag Today.

"I’m very concerned that if prices continue to fall and we have any kind of an average year or below average year that we could be in some real trouble," said Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the committee's ranking Democrat and former chair. "This is one of the reasons if I had my way I’d like to see a Farm Bill that had an improved safety net going into this situation. But, with no new money, I don’t know how we’re going to do that."

Perdue said part of the stress was because of the "trade environment," and noted that U.S. sorghum prices fell after news surfaced that China is investigating U.S. sorghum exports. The investigation is a warning shot after President Trump imposed high tariffs on solar panel imports, which mostly come from China. The Chinese may also investigate U.S. soybean imports.

While Perdue was talking, the American Farm Bureau Federation was publishing a warning from a farmer about another big issue facing rural America: the opioid epidemic. "Our focus on national regulations and global trade are real issues that need to be addressed, but the future of farming and ranching may be just as dependent on our awareness of curbing the opioid dependency in our grassroots communities where individuals influence national changes," Matt Niswander of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., writes.

"We need rural America’s farmers and ranchers to unite and remove the stigma and veil of shame surrounding opioid use and addiction, and we need additional training for rural healthcare providers to be empowered as strong advocates for non-opioid treatment options," Niswander writes. If we choose to ignore the problem, this epidemic will continue to spread, leaving a devastating impact that will undermine the current state of agriculture in rural America. Rural America’s opioid crisis is here right now."

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