Friday, July 06, 2018

Trade war is official: U.S. starts tariffs and China responds; soybean prices hit their lowest level in a decade

The trade war between the U.S. and China is officially on. "The United States imposed the first duties on $34 billion in Chinese goods early Friday," The Washington Post reports. "Moments later, the Chinese side fired back," accusing the U.S. of violating World Trade Organization rules and starting “the largest trade war in economic history to date.”

China did not specify its targets, but it "has promised to slap levies on an equal amount of American goods, including heartland staples like soybeans, corn, pork and poultry — a move President Trump said would compel the U.S. to hit China with levies on up to $500 billion in products," the Post notes.

"Soybeans represent 41 percent of the value of U.S. products on China's retaliatory tariff list," Katie Dehlinger reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The value of U.S. soybean exports to China has grown 26-fold in 10 years, from $414 million in 1996 to $14 billion in 2017, according to the American Soybean Association. Futures prices have dropped more than $2 per bushel since talk of the tariffs began back in March."

The tariffs depressed soybean prices further, Benjamin Parkin of The Wall Street Journal reports: “Soybean prices fell to the lowest point in almost a decade on Monday, as looming Chinese tariffs threatened to kill off demand from the U.S.’s largest customer.” Bloomberg News notes, "In the U.S., average cash prices fell to about $7.79 a bushel this week, the lowest in almost a decade, according to an index compiled by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange." However, the price has since jumped up:

Quick hits: Sessions saves a town's fireworks; Appalachian adoption, foster care; good analyses of Farm BIll and trade

Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at

The small town of Hamlet, N.C., just east of Charlotte, canceled its Independence Day festivities in 2017 because of threats of gang violence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, infuriated when he heard the news, "sent a team of federal prosecutors to Richmond County to team up with state and local law enforcement along with the courts to combat the area's violent crime, Michael Gordon reports for The Charlotte Observer. After the crackdown, the town felt safe enough to have their usual Independence Day celebration this year. Read more here.

The Ohio University Press Podcast's latest installment is a fascinating discussion with Wendy Welch about her book Fall or Fly: The Strangely Hopeful Story of Foster Care and Adoption in Appalachia. The featured review on reads: "In Fall or Fly, Welch invites people bound by a code of silence to open up and to share their experiences. Less inspiration than a call to caring awareness, this pioneering work of storytelling journalism explores how love, compassion, money, and fear intermingle in what can only be described as a marketplace for our nation’s greatest asset." Listen to the podcast here.

As jobs disappear in rural coal country, a private prison pitches itself as the solution to one rural Kentucky town's financial woes. But some residents are pushing back. Read more here.

Farmdoc Daily has an excellent analysis of the Farm Bill and its prospects. Read more here.

The Agricultural Policy Analysis Center offers a solid breakdown of the politics of international trade. Read more here.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt is replaced by former coal lobbyist

Andrew Wheeler
(Zuma Press photo by Alex Edelman)
Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned yesterday after continuous controversy about his spending habits, ethics, and management decisions, Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin report for The Washington Post. Though Pruitt weathered storms for months, by currying favor with President Trump, the tipping point for his resignation may have been recent questions about whether he illegally deleted meetings from his calendar after the fact and fired an EPA aide because she questioned the practice, CNN and The New York Times report.

Pruitt's spot will be filled by EPA Deputy Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, a move that environmentalists immediately blasted, Dino Grandoni reports for the Post. Wheeler was also the longtime attorney to leading coal magnate Robert Murray, a Trump donor who gave the administration a pro-coal wish list thatg has largely been fuilfilled. Before lobbying, Wheeler was a longtime aide to Sen. James Inhofe who worked on environmental policy. Inhofe is a climate-change denier, and Wheeler has questioned scientifically accepted theories on it.

Asked at his confirmation hearing about the relationship between human activity and global warming, Wheeler said, “I believe man has an impact on the climate but what is not completely understood is what the impact is.”

Wheeler "isn’t likely to bring big changes in policy at the EPA," Rebecca Ballhaus of The Wall Street Journal reports. "Republicans have said Mr. Wheeler was well qualified and noted that he had the support of business groups, which pointed to his work for more than a decade on environmental and natural-resources policy on Capitol Hill. Three Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for his confirmation to the deputy post in April."

UPDATE, July 7: Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin of the Post offer  a Q and A with Wheeler.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Somewhat following an old tradition, The Rural Blog will be doing a lighter lift for the next week or two

For decades it was customary for weekly newspapers to take one, maybe two, weeks off from publication each year: most often the week after Christmas, but also a week in the summer, often the week at the end of June or the beginning of July. We thought about that this week as we prepared to move the office of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky and give The Rural Blog some days off, or days with lighter lifting, through mid-July.

The Licking Valley Courier in West Liberty, Ky., still takes
a week off in the summer. It's owned by the Kinner family.
The weeks-off phenomenon reflected the former nature of weekly newspapers, which were largely family operations, many lacking the staff to fill in for a vacationing editor or publisher. That was probably one reason that a postal regulation required newspapers with second-class (now Periodicals) mailing permits to publish not 52 weeks a year, not 51, but 50.

The week off in the summer helped facilitate, in the late 1950s, establishment of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. ISWNE will hold its annual conference next week at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon; it meets on college campuses because dormitory space is available in the summer, and much cheaper than hotel rooms. It's always an inspiring meeting.

Nail factory workers in Southeast Missouri are hurt by Trump's tariffs on steel, but they still support him

Employees at a rural nail factory say they were shocked last month when 60 of their co-workers were laid off because of new steel and aluminum tariffs, but despite more looming layoffs say they still support President Trump. "Across Poplar Bluff, a struggling town of 17,000 in a remote pocket of southeast Missouri, many residents are reluctant to criticize Trump as they grapple with the prospect that their community could be one of the trade war’s first casualties," Jenny Jarvie reports for the Los Angeles Times. Trump won 79 percent of the vote in Butler County.

Managers at Mid Continent Nail Corp. in Poplar Bluff have cut back employees' hours and say they may have to lay off another 200 workers in the coming weeks. But employee Jimmy Coffer, who voted for Trump because he wanted him to bring back manufacturing jobs, told Jarvie he supports the president: "In fact, I'd like to shake his hand. He's doing a great job."

Many other interviewees echoed Coffer's sentiments, saying they still believe Trump will bring back manufacturing jobs even if they lose theirs. Diane Brogdon, 54, said Trump is "looking at the big picture, and I understand that. But he's got to stop and look at the small towns around here that are really going to get hurt."

Some locals blamed the layoffs on the company for importing steel from Mexico instead of buying American. Others were hesitant to criticize Trump's policies, worried they'd be harassed on social media, and some worried that the news media was only looking to score points at the president's expense. One barber-shop customer, who declined to give his name to Jarvie, complained that the media "can't say anything nice about" Trump, and said "If Trump ran into a burning building to pull out children, they'd say he's hurting firefighters."

What's on the horizon for Mid Continent Nail? It could relocate to Mexico where it could buy steel and export finished nails back to the U.S. without tariffs, but company officials insist they're staying in Poplar Bluff, Jarvie reports.

People in wealthy states get more exercise; people in rural areas tend to get less, but income is the big driver

Washington Post map; click on the image to enlarge it.
A new report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows some interesting predictors of physical fitness. Only 23 percent of American adults under 65 meet federal guidelines for weekly physical activity, which say adults should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week, as well as some muscle-strengthening activity like calisethenics or weight-lifting twice a week, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

Other factors that have a positive correlation to adequate physical activity: living in an urban area (but not a strong correlation), drinking heavily (higher income individuals tend to drink more), working in a managerial or professional role, having a high household income, and not following a religion. Factors that have a negative correlation with physical activity: high average daily temperatures, voting for Donald Trump in 2016, and being in fair or poor physical health. Here are nine scatter-plots of the states, showing the nine factors the study examined, based on statewide rates; the steeper the trend line, the stronger the correlation:

Annapolis' July 4 parade honors freedom of the press; moment of silence to be observed at 2:33 p.m. ET today

Current and former Capital Gazette staff march in the Annapolis parade (Baltimore Sun photo by Jay Reed)
In yesterday's Independence Day parade in Annapolis, Md., several dozen current and former journalists from the Capital Gazette marched in support of freedom of the press and to show solidarity with their community. "Rick Hutzell, The Capital’s editor, said journalists don’t usually participate in such events — they document them. But he felt this time was different. He was heartened by the show of support," Pamela Wood reports for The Baltimore Sun

"We know this is not just our tragedy," Hutzell told Wood. "We are part of Annapolis and we are part of Anne Arundel County. The faces I saw and the friends I saw convinced me it was the right decision to be out there, and to be with our wider family, and it felt good."

Several employees who marched were in the newsroom during the attack last week in which four journalists and a sales assistant were fatally shot. Many marching with the paper wore shirts reading "Journalism matters" and others wore shirts that read "Press on." Other parade floats paid tribute to the newspaper: a banner on the Annapolis Sons of the Signers' float featured a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "The only security of all is in a free press," Wood reports.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., who marched separately from the journalists, also wore a "Press on" shirt. His office forwarded a request from Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley to the White House to order the American flag be lowered in recognition of the recent tragedy. Though Buckley said President Trump initially declined the request, the president ordered the flags lowered to half-staff on July 3. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president did not decline the request, but was only following proper protocol before making the order, Scott Neuman and Colin Dwyer report for NPR.

Another way to honor the fallen: The American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors are asking newsrooms worldwide to observe a moment of silence at 2:33 p.m. today, exactly one week after the deadly shooting.

Best practices for newsrooms to keep journalists safe

In the wake of last week's deadly shooting at the Capital-Gazette in Annapolis, it's natural and advisable to worry about the safety of your own newsroom. To that end, the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors have compiled a two-page list of best safety practices for newsrooms for before, during, and after a dangerous event such as a shooting. Click here to read it.

The list advises newsrooms to do such things as: consider installing cameras at each newsroom entrance, having a secure door that locks, scheduling an active shooter training session, and more.

During an active shooter event, journalists are encouraged to try to communicate with police silently by means of texting or social media, don't hide in groups, and silence all electronic devices.

After an attack, staffers should keep hands visible and empty so they don't get confused with the shooter and help get injured people to safety. Managers are encouraged to be role models for self-care and keep the staff as informed as possible.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Book lovers bring back rural Oregon county's public libraries

Volunteers at Riddle Public Library (Oregonian/Beth Nakamura)
It looked like curtains for the public libraries in Douglas County, Oregon, after residents voted down a tax initiative to save them last year. The branches closed one by one in the struggling rural area, hurt by the but then, a bit of a miracle happened: "Since then, one by one, library lovers from here to Reedsport have fought, wrangled and inspired to launch a grass-roots effort to help re-open the doors," Shane Dixon Kavanaugh reports for The Oregonian. "Small but growing armies of volunteers have worked to rebuild collection catalogs, staff reference desks and run summer reading programs for kids."

Douglas County (Wikipedia map)
With private efforts, aided by donations, fundraisers, and local tax levies, nine of the 11 closed libraries are back up and running. "The turnaround marks a rare bright spot for a struggling county forced in recent decades to gut services amid declines in logging on public lands. Federal timber revenues, once as high as $50 million a year, plummeted to just several million dollars annually," Kavanaugh reports.

Read here for more on how these rural Oregonians got their libraries back.

Study says coal-dust laws aren't enough to stem black-lung epidemic, and a 'fundamental shift is needed'

Tougher safety rules for coal miners may not be enough to stem the rising tide of new black-lung cases, according to a review of the federal government's latest efforts to keep coal miners from being exposed to dust that can cause the fatal disease.

The review, released last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, "notes that coal mine operators comply with the new dust control regulations at a rate of more than 99 percent, but 'these approaches may not guarantee that exposures will be controlled adequately or that future disease rates will decline'," Howard Berkes reports for NPR.

Mine operators need to do more than comply with federally mandated safety requirements to lower the incidence of black-lung cases, the review concludes, and says a "fundamental shift is needed in the way mine operators approach exposure control."

The latest rules, imposed in 2016, require a small number of miners to wear dust-sampling devices that monitor coal-dust exposure in real time but can take weeks to analyze. If the monitors discover unsafe dust levels, mine operators can boost ventilation, slow mining machines so they produce less dust, and move miners to areas with less dust, but the study found those approaches inadequate, since miners in other areas who are not wearing the devices may be exposed to more dust.

"Also, the new dust monitors do not provide real-time sampling of silica dust, which is created when mining machines cut into sandstone and is far more toxic than coal dust alone," Berkes reports. "Cutting sandstone has occurred more often in Central Appalachia as large coal seams are mined out and the thinner seams that remain have sandstone mixed with the coal." The study recommends development of a real-time silica dust sampling monitor. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is working on such a device, but already has a system that can provide silica exposure readings at the end of a miner's shift; that device is expected to be available to mining companies for voluntary use soon, Berkes reports.

Senate Labor-HHS appropriations bill boosts funds for rural tele-health programs, measures to fight opioid epidemic

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $179.3 billion Labor and Health and Human Services bill last week that includes $25.5 million in funding for existing rural tele-health programs and adds almost $150 million in direct funding to fight the opioid epidemic.

The bill "directly contradicts the White House's demand earlier this year for a more than 20 percent cut to HHS' discretionary funding for fiscal 2019, and follows the upper chamber's rejection last week of President Donald Trump's request for $15 billion in rescissions," Susannah Luthi reports for Modern Healthcare. "The bill exceeds the House health spending measure . . . by more than $2 billion."

Overall opioid epidemic spending in the bill is at $3.7 billion, which includes $200 million for community health centers, $120 million for rural communities, $150 for community behavioral health centers (a $50 million increase), and $1.5 billion in flexible funding for states, Luthi reports.

Rural kids at higher risk of hospitalization from gun injury

Firearms are a leading cause of injury and death for American children and teens; a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics examines how the hospitalization rate for gun injuries in rural areas differs from urban areas.

Overall, urban teens from 15 to 19 were most likely to be hospitalized for assault with a firearm, but rural children from 5 to 14 were most likely to be hospitalized for an unintentional gun injury. Unintentional injuries were the leading cause of hospitalization in all rural and urban age groups, the study reports.

The study examined sampled data from The Kids' Inpatient Database to identify 21,581 hospitalizations for firearm injuries in patients under 20 years of age in 2006, 2009 and 2012 (the KID is released every three years and contains data from more than 4,100 hospitals in 44 states). Urban-rural classification was based on patients' county of residence, and rates were calculated using weighted cases and census data. The study didn't include patient deaths that occurred in the emergency department. 

Small-town columnist writes about harassment but says it's puny 'compared to what national reporters endure'

Teri Carter
We reported yesterday about the wave of contemplative pieces the Annapolis newspaper shooting inspired from journalists all over the country, but this op-ed today in the Lexington Herald-Leader is worth sharing because it shows the risk that journalists can face when they write about controversial subjects at a polarized time in America.

Teri Carter, a columnist for The Anderson News, a Landmark Community Newspapers weekly in Lawrenceburg, Ky., writes often about state and national politics, and often criticizes President Trump, who carried the county big. (Editor Ben Carlson is not on the same page with her politically but has defended her publicly.) In her latest piece, she shares a few incidents, starting with one at a veterinarian's office right after she had her 14-year-old dog put to sleep and a man in line behind her overheard her name:
He said with disgust, “I know you. Woman from the paper.” He paused and leaned in. “Because I read, you know. I re-e-ead the paper.” I turned and smiled and, not knowing what to say, I clumsily thanked him. But he kept on.
This is what it’s like to write about politics in the Age of Trump. Public confrontations. Threatening emails. Social media attacks. And I am the smallest of small potatoes. Stories like mine are a puny little pinprick compared to what national reporters endure. Imagine the president denigrating any other American job — your job, maybe — the way he does journalism: “Factory workers are very dishonest people! Farmers are #FakeFarmers, not nice! So funny to watch teachers and nurses, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with!”
Would you, would any of us, stand for this?”
Carter's experiences with harassment have given her a somewhat jaundiced view of the current debate over public civility toward the president's administration: "Having spent a good two years drowning in this Trumpian dystopia, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t get too het up about calls for civility when the White House press secretary is quietly and politely asked to leave a white-tablecloth restaurant. Thoughts and prayers come to mind." And she relates the latest incident, at a grocery:
I turned a corner and a strange man, no cart and no basket in hand, walked up and grabbed my cart. “Hey there,” he said, standing too close. “You that lady writes for the paper?”
I stood tall as I could. I looked him in the eye. “I am,” I said. He was wearing a frayed baseball hat, an open flannel shirt. Lips pursed, he looked my body up and down like he was getting ready to catcall. “Well,” he finally said, letting go of my cart. “Alright then.”
When I got home, I found my husband out mowing the grass. “Were you scared?” he asked, cutting the engine. “Did he say anything else?” And I said “No it’s fine, I’m fine. I’m used to it. It was creepy, he was just mad, it felt weird.” I said all the things I always say, because I hate it when my husband worries. And then I went back inside to get Easter dinner going for my family, hands shaking.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Reflections on value and dangers of community journalism in the wake of Annapolis shooting; moment of silence set

UPDATE: The American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Managing Editors ask "newsrooms around the globe" to join their members and The Baltimore Sun Media Group, owner of the Capital-Gazette, in a moment of silence spent in contemplation, prayer, reflection or meditation at 2:33 p.m. ET Thursday, July 5, "to honor those who lost their lives and to show support to those who lost family, friends, co-workers and peers."

Last week's deadly shooting at the Capital-Gazette in Annapolis, Md., has inspired a wave of supportive columns and essays from other journalists about the value of local newspapers and community journalists.

In a column for the Miami Herald, Dave Barry reminisces about his days as a rookie reporter at the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa. Since then, he writes, most of his friends have been newspaper journalists: "No offense to any other profession, but these are, pound for pound, the smartest, funniest, most interested and most interesting people there are. They love what they do, and most of them do it for lousy pay, at a time when the economic situation of newspapers is precarious, and layoffs are common."

Barry acknowledges that a tiny fraction of journalists are incompetent or dishonest, but "The news people I know are still passionate about what they do, and they do it remarkably well. And here's the corny-but-true part: They do it for you. Every time they write a story, they're hoping you'll read it, maybe learn something new, maybe smile, maybe get mad and want to do something."

In The Washington Post, Arelis Hernandez eulogizes Annapolis shooting victim Wendi Winters, an editor and community reporter: "No matter was too provincial, no event too pedestrian and no neighbor too ordinary for Winters to notice in her weekly dispatches. She featured an elderly couple retiring after a half-century of running a local diner and made an abandoned missile site sound like a worthy Saturday afternoon jaunt." She "made the mundane marvelous."

Bill Rail, former publisher,
Independent Appeal
Kevin Slimp of State of Newspapers writes, "I don’t think most people have any idea how dangerous serious journalism can be. What happened in Maryland is a possibility at any real newspaper every day." Journalists are all too familiar with death threats, and "it's an alarming part of the life of a journalist." He mentions a telephone threat several years ago to the publisher of the Independent Appeal in Selmer, Tenn., who responded thusly: “Yes this is me … Yes, I saw the story … Yes, I told them they could run it … How many brothers you got? How many guns you got? Well, I’ve got a baseball bat. Meet me in front of our building in 15 minutes.” Publisher Bill Rail told Slimp, “I get a call like that just about every week. You just have to get used to it in this business.”

In an editorial for the Index-Journal in Greenwood, S.C., the editors write that the shooting "matters to us because you matter to us. This is our community too. We don’t just parachute in, tell a story and leave. This is our home too. And so it grieves us, it grieves us deeply when we learn that others who have answered the very same calling as community journalists are killed." The Capital and the Index-Journal have the same goal, the editors write: "be a reflection of the community. Tell its stories, which are not always good, not always happy, not always what you want to clip and place on the refrigerator. That is what a community newspaper is all about. A true community newspaper reports the good, the bad and the ugly, but the good is as important to us to report as is the bad and the ugly."

And John Temple writes for The Atlantic: "One of the reasons I loved working in local journalism was that I felt close to the stories I covered. I would meet people I wrote about in the grocery store. Or at a movie theater. There was no getting away from seeing them again, whether I wrote something that might have angered them or something they liked. It’s one of the things that keeps journalists honest. There are thousands across the country doing this daily work, striving to get one more story, one more fact, one more picture to capture the life of their community. They’re the ones who create the front pages memorializing everything from the victory of a local sports team to the devastation of a local flood or fire. Local journalists and their newspapers play a special role. They help define a community’s character and identity."

Indira Lakshmanan of The Poynter Institute has a good roundup of other commentary, with her take on President Trump's attacks ("Journalists took to social media after the Annapolis shooting in despair that anti-media rhetoric is poisoning the country against us") and saying that regaining "the respect of those who don’t understand our work . . . starts with explaining our values and what we do."

UPDATE: Kyle Pope, editor of Columbia Journalism Review, says the incident shows that despite the nasty rhetoric aimed at national journalists, those at the local level may be most at risk: "the proximity of local newsrooms to their communities makes them different. Most of their readers live a short drive away. Many know where the newsroom’s offices are located. And, security tends to be slim or nonexistent. (At the Gazette, even an intense level of security would most likely have been ineffective; the suspect, Jarrod Ramos, shot through the paper’s glass front door, before entering the newsroom.) Local newsrooms are accessible for a reason—it’s part of what makes them integral to the life of their communities. People come in to buy ads. Readers bring in photos of their kids’ sports teams. Tipsters drop by with gossip. It is heartbreaking, but necessary, to recognize that the openness that defines local news likely carries too high a risk; local newsrooms, at least for now, may have no choice but to fortify themselves."

Violent crime rate in rural U.S. at highest level in a decade

The violent crime rate in rural America has climbed above the national average for the first time in 10 years, and rural areas have the highest incarceration rates in the country, Alan Greenblatt reports for Governing magazine: "The explanations for this change are familiar ones. Not all rural areas are poor, but many have lost jobs as factories have closed and farming has become increasingly consolidated," Greenblatt writes. "Lack of employment has naturally led to increases in poverty, which is closely associated with crime. The opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard, and methamphetamine remains a major problem in many small towns."

Meanwhile, rural areas face a shortage of law enforcement personnel. Dwindling tax bases mean sheriff's offices and police forces have had to make cut-backs, which means fewer deputies and officers to patrol counties and small towns, and less money for building or maintaining jails. "Lack of enforcement, naturally, breeds crime," Greenblatt reports. "Criminals, particularly those dealing in drugs, become emboldened or move operations to areas where there’s little danger of detection."

NBC sums up the plight of small dairy farmers; U.S. has about than a tenth of the dairy farms it had 40 years ago

NBC News chart based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data
More than 42,000 dairy farmers have gone out of business since 2000, "casualties of an outdated business model, pricey farm loans and pressures from corporate agriculture," Phil MacCausland reports for NBC News. "There were nearly 650,000 dairy farms in the U.S. in 1970, but just 40,219 remained at the end of 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cows are producing more milk than ever, but they’re consolidated on bigger, more efficient farms. In 1987, half of American dairy farms had 80 or fewer cows; by 2012, that figure had risen to 900 cows."

MacCausland makes it current: "Small dairy farmers, an aging population, were some of the last U.S. holdouts against the farming industry’s pressure to grow or die — but it’s unclear how much longer they can last. Hope grew when President Donald Trump tweeted support for the dairy industry in early June at the G-7 meeting in Canada, but experts and farmers say Trump mistakenly focused his ire on trade and tariffs rather than an American industry that is increasingly hostile to small-time operators."

For four years, wholesale milk has sold for less than the cost of production, MacCausland reports: "Low milk prices set off a cycle in which farmers produce more milk to ensure they’re bringing in enough money to operate, leading to dairy products flooding the market and prices plummeting still further. Even when the price of milk rises, however, the cycle doesn’t end — farmers keep milking as much as they can to cash in before the price drops again. It’s a never-ending catch-22 of competition that is running dairy farmers aground."

MacCausland's object example is a group of more than 100 farmers in Kentucky and adjoining states who had to sell out when Walmart canceled a contract with Dean Foods, the only processor willing to buy their milk. (Walmart built a processing facility in Indiana.) Nine of them recently "made a handshake deal" with Scioto Milk Producers of Ohio, but the co-op doesn't need as much milk as Dean did and won't pay as much; also, the farmers will also have to pay to ship the milk to a processing plant in West Virginia. One farmers, Dan Sammons, told Kate Talerico of the Louisville Courier Journal that "Most of us will be losing money," but the deal could let them stay in business until the market improves.

Ala. farmer pleads guilty in $919,000 crop insurance scam

"Authorities say an Alabama farmer has acknowledged falsifying documents that allowed him to receive $919,000 in crop insurance money he wasn't entitled to," The Associated Press reports.

Read more here:

Dexter Day Gilbert, who has farms in Alabama and Florida, pleaded guilty recently to submitting false applications under his name and others to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. He submitted 14 false claims of loss between July and November 2016. Court documents say he began submitting the applications in March 2016. He will be sentenced in September.

Judge blocks Ky.'s bid to make 'able-bodied' adults on Medicaid work, volunteer, get training or drug treatment

A federal judge threw out Kentucky's plan for changes in Medicaid, casting doubt on efforts in several other states to require "able-bodied" adults on the program to work, volunteer, take job training or get treatment for substance abuse.

Kentucky is one of four states where the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has approved Medicaid work requirements. "Seven others — Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin — have proposals waiting for approval," Dylan Scott of Vox reports.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg of Washington, D.C., said in his ruling that HHS Secretary Alex Azar "never adequately considered whether" Kentucky's plan "would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid." The state had estimated that its Medicaid rolls would have 95,000 fewer people in five years than without the plan, partly due to non-compliance with its rules and reporting requirements.

Boasberg sent the issue back to HHS for review. State Health Secretary Adam Meier issued a statement calling the ruling "very narrow" and saying the state would work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "to quickly resolve the single issue raised by the court so that we can move forward."

"However, other issues may stand in the way," Al Cross writes for Kentucky Health News. "Boasberg said he didn't have to rule on some issues raised by the plaintiffs because Azar's omission was enough to invalidate the waiver."

UPDATE, July 3: Writing for The Commonwealth Fund, Sara Rosenbaum has "three takeaways" from Boasberg's ruling:  "1. Work requirements may not be unlawful per se, but any Medicaid waiver demonstration conducted under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act must be carefully assessed for its impact on people’s health care coverage. Providing health insurance, after all, is Medicaid’s reason for being.  2. Where Medicaid’s fundamental purpose and statutory protections are concerned, expansion beneficiaries stand on equal footing with 'traditional' populations. Judge Boasberg spends considerable time debunking what has become an especially contested aspect of the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s Medicaid expansion population: namely, that these individuals are somehow less worthy . . . 3. Comprehensive, high-quality evidence is the heart of lawful administrative decision-making."