Wednesday, August 21, 2019

State regulators say EPA has stopped asking for reports of injuries alleged to be caused by drifting dicamba herbicide

States continue to collect complaints of injuries due to dicamba, a controversial pesticide that turns to powder and drifts onto nearby fields. Two states have reported record numbers of alleged dicamba injuries, but the Environmental Protection Agency may not officially know about them.

"Unlike last year, the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs is not getting routine updates from state regulators on these injury reports," Emily Unglesbee reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Last year, representatives from the federal agency participated in weekly conference calls with state pesticide regulators on dicamba injury complaints and investigative findings throughout the summer and fall. EPA officials also visited multiple states to tour dicamba injury and hold public forums on the topic. This year, this regular communication and canvassing has dried up."

Several states have banned or restricted use of the chemical, and many stakeholders have urged the EPA to ban it at the federal level. However, last year the agency chose to approve it for the next two years with additional restrictions.

"In an emailed statement to DTN on July 31, an EPA spokesperson said the agency was still working with states to 'determine the extent and frequency' of communications on dicamba injury in 2019," Unglesbee reports. "But, with the spray season mostly behind them, state regulators told a different story."

Regulators from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Minnesota told Unglesbee that the agency has not requested any information this year. "While most states are making informal reports on their experience with dicamba to the representatives in their regional office of the EPA, the national Office of Pesticide Programs, which oversees the dicamba registrations, has had little to no direct communications with most state regulators on this issue," Unglesbee reports. "Only the Arkansas Department of Agriculture reported sending 2019 injury statistics to EPA headquarters recently."

The EPA sought to replace last year's weekly calls with a one-time dicamba survey for states to fill out and submit at the end of the 2019 season. "However, state regulators demanded more information on the purpose of the survey, noting that their efforts to communicate dicamba injury to EPA in 2018 had resulted in few substantial changes to the dicamba registrations," Unglesbee reports. "Since those concerns were voiced, EPA has been silent on the topic of a survey or any dicamba information-gathering."

Leading Iowa soy farmers say trade war makes times 'pretty dire' and only billions in special aid keeps them with Trump

"Things are getting pretty dire" for soybean farmer who planted beans expecting the the trade war with China would be over, Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer, chairman of the American Soybean Association, told Sophie Quinton of Stateline, who writes, "The trade fight couldn’t come at a worse time for American farmers, who have endured over five years of low commodity prices."

Quinton notes, "China’s 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans remains in place, and trade tensions are rising. The Trump administration is planning an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods and Beijing announced this month that Chinese companies would stop buying all U.S. agricultural products." China once bought a third of the U.S. soy crop.

And it's not just China, Quinton points out: "Between April 2018 and mid-June, China, Canada, the European Union, India, Mexico and Turkey have levied tariffs on more than a thousand U.S. agricultural items — from pork and cheese to fruit juice and whiskey — in response to tariffs the United States levied on their goods, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency that advises Congress. The tariffs imposed by Canada and Mexico were lifted."

Most farmers appear to be sticking with Trump; their trade-related losses have been eased by billions of dollars "market facilitation payments" that the administration was able to make from the Commodity Credit Corp. without congressional approval. Iowa Soybean Association President Lindsay Greiner told Quinton, “If it wasn’t for market facilitation payments, we would be losing a lot of money, and I think a lot of that support would probably start to go away pretty fast.”

Anti-abortion rule prompts rejections of family-planning funds; CVS squeezes mail-order contraceptive sellers

Rural residents may soon find it more difficult to access some forms of reproductive health care.

Planned Parenthood and some other reproductive-health providers, including some governments, have announced they will stop taking about $60 million in annual federal funding for low-income women's reproductive health services because a new Trump administration rule bars grantees from making referrals for abortions. "That loss in federal funding could deliver a heavy blow to already cash-strapped, non-profit clinics that are often the only providers in their communities offering low cost services," particularly in rural areas, Jessie Hellman reports for The Hill. "Other organizations, including Maine Family Planning, have dropped out of the program because of the new rule. Governors in Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Washington have all stated they will withdraw . . . and state legislatures in Maryland and Massachusetts have passed laws saying they would."

The family-planning program, Title X, has provided birth control and other reproductive care to young, poor women for almost 50 years. It serves about 4 million patients a year, most of them black or Hispanic, and sends $260 million a year to clinics. "The program has helped fill gaps in health care access including cancer screenings, STD testing and annual exams for women who are poor or don't have health insurance. It does not fund abortion care," Nicquel Ellis reports for USA Today. "Planned Parenthood has been the largest provider, serving 40 percent of all Title X patients."

Program participants had to submit statements to the government by Monday saying they would comply with the new rule, which will be enforced starting Sept. 18. "In addition to the ban on abortion referrals by clinics, the new Title X rules include financial separation from facilities that provide abortions, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients," Ellis reports. "Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions."

Planned Parenthood is the only Title X recipient in some areas—such as the entire state of Utah—and serves a disproportionate amount of the poor in other places, including many rural areas. Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that if Planned Parenthood facilities are forced to scale back or close, it will be impossible for other health centers to fill the gap, Ellis reports.

"Planned Parenthood and a host of states are suing the administration, with an appeals court holding hearings next month," Hellman reports.

Meanwhile, in July CVS Caremark began reimbursing mail-order prescription delivery companies less, including birth-control service Pill Club. Pill Club protests that the rate change threatens its ability to keep operating, Garnet Henderson reports for Vice.

Mail-order services like Pill Club, Nurx, and Pandia Health allow patients to get a prescription via virtual consultation with a doctor, then deliver the meds by mail. It's popular in rural areas, especially for women who don't have insurance or have other difficulties finding reproductive care. "According to Pill Club, 70 percent of its users previously had difficulties obtaining birth control, and 55 percent said they would have to stop taking birth control without Pill Club," Henderson reports.

CVS Caremark is a pharmacy-benefits manager, a third-party company that manages prescription benefits on behalf of insurers and Medicaid programs. It's a subsidiary of CVS Health and sister to the ubiquitous CVS Pharmacy chain. A CVS Caremark spokesperson confirmed the rate change, but said Pill Club's accusations were "extremely misleading" and that the decision was not specifically aimed at, nor would have any impact on, access to contraceptives, Henderson reports.

Sophia Yen, CEO and co-founder of Pandia Health, said small pharmacies (which is essentially what such services are) are threatened because they can't get discounts by buying in huge volumes like the top three or four pharmacy benefit managers can. She also noted that CVS offers its own mail-order service, and suggested the move might be an attempt to undercut competition, Henderson reports.

Ethanol company cuts production after EPA grants slew of small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard

"One of the nation's largest ethanol companies announced on Tuesday it will idle a 92-million-gallon plant in Cloverdale, Indiana, following EPA's decision to grant 31 new small-refinery waivers to the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2018," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Since 2016, President Donald Trump's administration has issued 85 exemptions totaling 4.03 billion gallons of ethanol-equivalent gallons not being blended with gasoline."

A spokesperson for POET said the company has already cut production at half of its plants, with the largest cuts at plants in Iowa and Ohio, and that shuttering the Indiana plant will hurt the local economy, Neeley reports.

"In addition, the company said numerous jobs will be consolidated across POET's 28 plants and corn processing will be reduced by an additional 100 million bushels across Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Missouri," Neeley reports.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

All of U.S. has climate issues, and decisions made now will determine conditions in 30-40 years, ag-policy analysts write

By Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray
Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee

The widespread flooding of this spring and early summer that resulted in delayed and prevented planting along with the extreme dry conditions and devastating fires last summer in California have raised the visibility of the issue of climate change for many people.

While this is a controversial issue in some agricultural circles, it is an issue that must be dealt with. All indications are that the annual average global temperature is rising to levels that will affect local rainfall and temperature patterns and thus have a significant impact on agricultural production.

On Aug. 7, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a special report, “Climate Change and Land” that includes a Summary for Policymakers. This report covers the issues of “desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.” These issues are of concern not just for farmers in vulnerable areas of the world, but for farmers and consumers in every corner of the U.S. as well.

We may think that desertification is something that concerns those living along the edge of the Sahara, but farmers from California to Texas to points north are facing increasingly dry conditions as well. Sustainable land management is an issue that has moved from a small cluster of innovative farmers to a concept that has to be at the heart of the daily work of every farmer.

Making sure that we produce and distribute food in ways that eliminate hunger is a responsibility that moves beyond the individual farmer to the whole of society and to the nature of the food and agricultural policy that we adopt as a nation and world.

We may think about greenhouse gas fluxes when a whiff of anhydrous ammonia burns our nasal passages, but the concept includes everything from the photosynthesis that removes carbon dioxide from the air to the respiration of all plants and animals.

The conditions people will face 30 or 40 years from now depend on the decisions we make today. These decisions include the way we tackle the post-harvest loss of “25 to 30 percent of total food produced” and the sad fact that 2 billion adults are obese or overweight while 821 million are still undernourished. These involve not farm-level decisions but ones that have to be made at the individual and societal levels.

There are critical issues that face the agricultural community:
  • Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 10 to 20 times (no tillage) to more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate.
  • Global warming has led to shifts of climate zones in many world regions, including expansion of arid climate zones and contraction of polar climate zones
  • Agriculture, forestry and other land-use activities accounted for around 13% of CO2, 44% of methane (CH4), and 82% of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016, representing 23% … of total net anthropogenic emissions of [greenhouse gases].
  • The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases. Increased atmospheric CO2 levels can also lower the nutritional quality of crops.
But none of this is chiseled in stone. There are multiple ways we can respond. We can make choices that mitigate the risks we face. The first step in this process is to understand the risks.

With that in mind, the IPPC report is not a lecture designed to shame us into action. Rather it describes the current situation and lays out the potential consequences of the choices we make.

It's a buyer's market for community weeklies, but buyers are needed; how about it, refugees from metropolitan papers?

Margie Stedman, Shirley Davis and Lou Taylor enjoy a print edition of
the Midway Messenger outside the post office, with Lou's dog Molly.
By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Most days this summer, I've written a story about goings-on in Midway, a small Kentucky town where my University of Kentucky students and I publish the Midway Messenger. When students aren’t around, I pick up the slack, but it’s a labor of love, to provide coverage for a proud community that once had a paper of its own and has adopted ours, even though after 11 years I’m still something of a parachute publisher.

I’ve been in the newspaper business most of my life, but never as an owner, and our mainly online, non-commercial enterprise is as close as I am likely to get. But there are plenty of opportunities out there.

“It’s a buyer’s market right now for weekly newspapers,” former weekly publisher Gary Sosniecki writes, in a package of stories that we’re publishing to attract potential owners to community newspaper. This article introduces that package.

You might have chuckled at the “buyer’s market” line, since all the bad news about metropolitan newspapers may lead you to think that a newspaper is no longer a good investment. That’s not true of most community newspapers, because they are the sole, reliable source of news about their communities, and most of them “are doing fine financially,” says Kevin Slimp, the leading consultant to community papers.

“In areas where decreased population, diminished area businesses and other forces beyond our control are at work, it might not be viable to sustain a local newspaper,” Slimp acknowledges. “Having said that, I’ve worked with many newspapers in the past year in towns with fewer than 600 residents who are finding ways to be successful.”

Helen and Gary Sosniecki
Gary and Helen Sosniecki found success with weeklies in three Midwest towns, the first with only 900 people. “If the population is stable, if most storefronts on Main Street are filled, if the town has its own school and the all-important sense of community, the prospects for a weekly newspaper succeeding long-term are good,” he writes.

But this is a buyer’s market with not enough buyers. When the West Virginia Press Association voiced concern that some newspapers in the state might close because their owners couldn’t find buyers, Maryanne Reed, then dean of the West Virginia University College of Media and now the university provost, got some foundation money and started a program called NewStart to develop the next generation of community newspaper owners.

The program's director, Jim Iovino, writes in this package about the success that Michael E. Sprengelmeyer found in a New Mexico weekly, the Guadalupe County Communicator, after the closing of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where he was a political correspondent and had the byline M.E. Sprengelmeyer.

Jim Iovino says his first group of fellows in the program are expected to start in June 2020.

That will be none too soon for the Texas Press Association, which has seen a rash of closures and mergers, and hears talk of more. As in West Virginia, buyers are hard to find. We suspect it’s much the same in most of the country. “Many owners of our generation waited too long to sell and – unable to find buyers – are shutting down their papers,” Gary Sosniecki writes.

Those of us in this informal group see at least two potential groups of buyers who need to be recruited: local business people who never thought about becoming publishers, but know their communities and the value of a newspaper, and know how to make a profit; and the thousands of journalists who have been laid off by metro newspapers.

“It’s a conundrum that independently owned weekly newspapers are closing for lack of buyers at the same time that journalists who would make good weekly-newspaper owners are being laid off in record numbers by metro newspapers and national newspaper groups,” Gary writes. “The challenge for our industry is to convince these unemployed journalists to explore the joys and rewards of owning a small-town newspaper.”

Helen Sosniecki gets down to the nitty-gritty of that in another article, giving advice on how to go about buying a newspaper and testifying about the experience.

“It won’t be all fun and games, “ she writes. “The hours are long. The financial payback may be less than your corporate salary. But the rewards in your accomplishments as a community newspaper owner can overshadow those drawbacks. . . . You live there. You chronicle the town’s history. But you’re also one of them. It’s your town, too. It will fill you with pride when the school basketball team wins that first state championship. It will bring you to tears when you and your neighbors bury that young volunteer fireman with the pregnant wife who died along with another volunteer on the way to a brush fire. It will be your job, your business and your life – and you’ll likely love it more than anything you’ve ever done.”

Kevin Slimp and I agree that the keys to success as a community newspaper publisher are the right market, the right management and the right content. “Job number one is to put out a good product,” he told The Washington Post recently. He told me in an email, “It’s time we began to focus on publishing the best newspapers we can.”

There are thousands of Americans who could put out a good newspaper. They need to give themselves the chance. We’re here to give advice if you need it. Now read the package of stories.

Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before working 26 years for the Louisville Courier Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. For 15 years, he has directed the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, where he is professor of journalism.

Oregon weekly irks local officials with after-hours calls and emails; they seek a harassment investigation by police

UPDATE, Aug: 21: The Enterprise reports, "Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said an inquiry by his staff into allegations of possible criminal conduct by the Malheur Enterprise is over. His conclusion: No evidence of a crime."

The Malheur Enterprise spent months investigating a state lawmaker's business deals in Malheur County, Oregon, and now the county wants to investigate the paper for harassment. County Counsel Stephanie Williams confirmed last week that she asked Sheriff Brian Wolfe to investigate whether reporters' persistent phone calls and emails violated the law. Wolfe said he hasn't decided whether to open a criminal investigation. Pat Caldwell reports for the Enterprise.

The official complaint is that reporters made calls outside of business hours and emailed county Economic Development Department officials' personal email addresses. EDD director Greg Smith said he had asked reporters to limit requests to office hours and to a single county email address. Williams told the Enterprise that 'we are looking into whether or not there was a violation, especially when Mr. Smith previously asked it not be done and it was disregarded,'" Caldwell reports.

Enterprise reporters had contacted Smith's office several times in recent weeks while investigate a tip alleging that Smith had lured a new car wash to the area with promises of a tax exemption that was never delivered. Smith did not respond to any of the emails, including a draft of the story offered before publication so he could cite any errors, until after the story had been published, according to Enterprise editor and publisher Les Zaitz.

Further muddying the waters: Smith is a private contractor and a state legislator, but is not a county employee. Moreover, he gave out his cell phone number at a government meeting last fall, and told the audience he was available "24/7" for any questions or concerns. That same phone number is listed on Malheur County press releases and has been given out in his communications as a state legislator, Caldwell reports.

Zaitz said the newspaper was alarmed about a possible investigation, and said the staff has used "standard and professional methods" to seek information from officials about important public business. "At no time has anyone from the Enterprise abused any personal cell number of a government official," Zaitz told Caldwell. "Suggesting that professional journalists are behaving as criminals in gathering vital information for the community appears to be an effort to silence and intimidate the Enterprise."

Trump administration delays ban on Huawei Technologies because of concerns about disruptions in rural service

"The Trump administration is extending a reprieve for Huawei Technologies and U.S. companies working with the telecom giant by 90 days, the Commerce Department announced Monday," Bobby Allyn reports for NPR. The new deadline is Nov. 19.

As part of the trade war with China, in May President Trump announced that, within 90 days, U.S. telecoms networks had to stop buying or using equipment from "foreign adversaries". However, the move drew immediate protests from rural wireless carriers who rely on the less expensive Huawei equipment. Monday's extension is meant to give them "a little more time to wean themselves off," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Fox Business Network.

Despite the extended deadline, the Commerce Department is still pressuring Huawei, and has banned another 46 of the company's subsidiaries from doing business with U.S. companies because of national security concerns; that brings the total number of Huawei affiliates on the "Entity List" to more than 100. Commerce officials alleged that the companies engaged in activities including "providing financial services to Iran and obstructing justice in connection with a probe into violations of U.S. sanctions," Allyn reports.

Huawei protested the move, saying in a statement that the decision was politically motivated and unrelated to national security, Allyn reports.

Democrats seek to regain traction in rural areas, but are presidential candidates' proposals what rural voters want?

Mindful of Hillary Clinton's failure to connect with rural America in 2016, the current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls are expending considerable energy on reaching out to rural voters in hopes of closing a long-time gap.

"Democrats are climbing out of a deep hole in rural America. In 2008, Obama lost rural voters by 17 points, and by 23 points in 2012. Rock bottom arrived in 2016, when Clinton ran 34 points behind Trump among voters, according to data collected by Catalist, a Democratic data platform," Elena Schneider and Catherine Boudreau report for Politico. "Democrats clawed back some gains in rural counties in the 2018 midterm elections, and they want to build on that momentum in 2020."

Democratic candidates' plans include things like broadband expansion and expanded or universal Medicare. But are these policy proposals, which include greener farming practices, what rural people want? The Daily Yonder and its affiliated Rural Assembly talked to a dozen experienced rural-policy advocates about what top measures they would like to see 2020 presidential candidates address. "New or increased funding for rural programs is on the agenda, the Yonder reports. "But other themes include a call for inclusion, cultural parity, redirecting programs for more community impact, and holding large institutions accountable for the way they serve rural America." Here are a few highlights from what the rural-policy advocates told the Yonder:

Federal housing policy mostly benefits cities and suburbs right now, and must be revamped to help rural areas. That means investing heavily in local non-profits that know local housing issues best, and funding community development finance institutions to deploy in places banks can't reach, according to David Lipsetz, executive director of the Housing Assistance Council.

Increased access to health care is critical in rural America, where more than 100 hospitals have closed since 2010 and more are in danger of closing, according to Alan Morgan, president of the National Rural Health Association. Medicare cuts and the lack of Medicaid expansion contribute to rural hospital closures. Three in five rural voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who makes rural health care access a priority.

Rural areas need significant funding to support arts programming, better broadband to share that art with the world, and spaces dedicated to showcasing the arts. Making space for rural people to create and share art validates their identities and helps instill pride, according to Carlton Turner, the director and lead artist of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production.

For a complete list of issues and rural advocate recommendations, read the Yonder story here.

U.S. farmlands far more toxic to honeybees these days because of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides

According to a newly published study, American farmland is 48 times more toxic to honeybees than it was 25 years ago because of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. "This enormous rise in toxicity matches the sharp declines in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well as birds, says co-author Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth US," Stephen Leahy reports for National Geographic magazine.

Klein and other researchers made their determination using a new tool that measures an area's toxicity to honeybees, how long a pesticide remains toxic, and how much of it is used in a year, following procedures established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study found that "neo-nics" accounted for 92 percent of the increased toxicity. "Neonics are not only incredibly toxic to honeybees, they can remain toxic for more than 1,000 days in the environment," Leahy reports.

Honeybees aren't the only animals affected; they are often a proxy for effects on other insects. And as insect populations have declined recently, so have the numbers of insect-eating birds, Leahy reports.

Neonics are used in more than 120 countries on over 140 different crops. In the U.S., it's most popular for coating seeds like corn or soy. But only 5 percent of the toxin stays on the plant; the other 95% builds up in the soil and environment, and has contaminated streams and other water sources, Leahy reports.

Monday, August 19, 2019

States increasingly allowing dental therapists to practice, which can help bring more dental care to rural areas

It can be difficult to find adequate dental care in rural areas, since there usually aren't enough dentists and many rural residents lack money and/or dental insurance. One solution, adopted by dozens of countries, is to let dental therapists to practice in rural areas. Roughly speaking, the therapists are to dentists what nurse practitioners are to doctors. But in the U.S, dentists and their powerful lobbies have argued for years that dental therapists should not be allowed to set up shop in rural areas.

"Therapists can fill teeth, attach temporary crowns, and extract loose or diseased teeth, leaving more complicated procedures like root canals and reconstruction to dentists," Marina Villeneuve reports for The Associated Press. "But many dentists argue therapists lack the education and experience needed even to pull teeth."

In the U.S. right now, dental therapists practice in four states, "on certain reservations and schools in Oregon through a pilot program; on reservations in Washington and Alaska; and for over 10 years in Minnesota, where they must work under the supervision of a dentist," Villeneuve reports.

But more states have passed, or are in the process of passing, laws to authorize dental therapists. Arizona, Maine and Vermont have passed such laws; Connecticut, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico did so since December, and Idaho and Montana's governors signed laws this spring that allow dental therapists to operate on reservations. "Legislation failed in North Dakota and Florida this spring. Bills are pending in Kansas, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, as well as Washington, where therapists could be authorized to practice outside reservations," Villeneuve reports.

The American Dental Association and its state chapters spend more than $3 million a year on lobbying, some of it in opposition to dental-therapy laws. ADA chapters in Connecticut and Massachusetts supported legislation in those states that satisfied their concerns about safety. "The Massachusetts proposal, not yet law, would require therapists to attain a master's degree and temporarily work under a dentist's supervision," Villeneuve reports.

Education could be an obstacle to increasing the ranks of dental therapists. Some start out as hygienists, who usually have a two-year associate's degree. And though some advocates say dental therapists should only need the same education level as a hygienists, many opponents say therapists need more training. However, only Alaska and Minnesota have dental therapy educational programs, and Minnesota's program is the only one that offers a master's degree—an expensive proposition for prospective therapists, Villeneuve reports. Vermont is creating a dental therapy program at Vermont Technical College set to launch in the fall of 2021. The program, funded with the help of a $400,000 federal grant, will have distance-learning options.

North Dakota Highway Patrol and a sheriff's department in the state get federal permission to fly drones over people

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department in North Dakota the permission to fly drones over people and populated areas. "The North Dakota patrol is the first state highway patrol agency in the country to receive the permission," Blake Nicholson reports for the Bismarck Tribune. "The Burleigh County Sheriff's Department is only the second county law enforcement agency in the nation to obtain it." In June, the North Dakota Transportation Department became the first state government agency to get an FAA permit to fly drones over people.

According to Col. Brandon Solberg, the highway patrol's superintendent, the waiver will allow troopers to safely document complicated vehicle crash scenes. The agency says the drones will also aid in finding missing people and fleeing suspects, Nicholson reports.

The patrol is in the process of buying a drone, and has already bought a parachute recovery system that makes it safer to fly over populated areas; if the drone falls, the system deploys a parachute, shuts down the rotors, and emits a buzzer to warn bystanders. If the patrol is satisfied with the drone, it plans to buy three more and base one in each quadrant of the state, Nicholson reports. The state legislature approved one-time funding of almost $100,000 for the program over the next three years.

Rural issues get more attention from presidential candidates this time, indicating that rural advocates are being heard

Though the 2020 presidential election is unlikely to hinge on rural policy positions, rural America is getting a lot more attention from Democratic presidential candidates than in recent elections. Bryce Oates writes for The Daily Yonder: "Last week I spent a lot of time reading and comparing statements and policy positions among the diverse field of Democratic candidates. Unlike any time I’ve seen in 20 years of rural advocacy and economic development work, many of the candidates are developing serious and innovative rural policy ideas that deserve more attention."

Many Democratic campaigns are championing rural infrastructure and telecommunications with specific budget and policy proposals. And many are "calling for aggressive changes in the health-care sector to address a crisis in rural health care facilities and availability. Most of them support agricultural reforms and conservation programs that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions," Oates writes.

Eight of the Democratic candidates have released comprehensive rural policy plans, as noted in the Yonder's running policy tracker. A few proposals stick out from the pack for "innovation and scope," Oates writes:
  • ARPA-Ag, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's proposed research and development initiative to encourage more environmentally friendly agriculture practices and share results of innovation. 
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plan to increase rural broadband by allowing public-sector internet providers such as local governments, Native American tribes, rural electric cooperatives and rural telephone cooperatives to compete with private companies.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Rural Future Partnership Fund, $50 billion in public financing for multi-year, flexible block grants to local communities for rural revitalization projects. 
  • Sen. Cory Booker's proposed expansion of the Renewable Energy for America Program, which provides grants and loans to farmers and small rural business owners for installing and operating renewable energy systems.
Though many if not most rural policy proposals will face formidable challenges in actually being passed and implemented, Oates looks on the bright side: "While partisan and electoral politics are an ever-present barrier, rural people and organizations should take note that their consistent calls for more funding, resources and attention are working. Huge investments in rural broadband have been embraced by all of the Democrats in the race . . . Nearly all the candidates have called for aggressive antitrust action to curtail the market power of corporate agribusiness, a clear rejection of the hands-off approach during the Obama administration. The rural hospital closure crisis is being mentioned on the nationally televised debate stage. The climate crisis is being treated as a serious issue, with a 'just transition' to cleaner agriculture, forestry and mining practices in the spotlight."

Washington State J-school rural reporting project evaluates effect of community support on 'parachute' reporting

Washington State University map; click on the image to enlarge it.
Student journalists from Washington State University began an ambitious rural reporting project last October: to investigate whether community guidance and involvement can improve "parachute" reporting and create meaningful coverage in rural areas.

The project kicked off with a 48-hour "Rural Reporting Plunge," in which teams of four student journalists visited 12 small towns to covered local issues. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, more than 60 students traveled to 26 rural communities within 100 miles of the college in Pullman.

According to the report on the project, community members, news media, educators and students discussed the project at the Rural Journalism Education Roundtable in April 2019. Some key points:
  • Resources, particularly financial, are a major barrier to rural coverage. Small newspapers can't hire as many employees, and have trouble retaining reporters because of low pay.
  • Resources are also a barrier to professional collaboration with student journalists because it requires a lot of time to mentor students. Hiring one university employee to serve as an editor-advisors for student journalists could substantially increase how much student work is published in local media and improve learning outcomes for students. 
  • Rural journalism is a low priority in the news industry. Along with closing papers, closing bureaus, and ghost newspapers, universities often show disregard for rural and local news by praising alumni who work at large newspapers, urging talented students to pursue internships at big city newspapers, and choosing projects with national awards in mind rather than local information needs.
The Reporting Plunge was supported by the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment at WSU. The yearlong project was administered by the Online News Association with support from the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the Rita Allen Foundation and the Scripps Howard Foundation

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Rural coroner made the tough call on local opioid epidemic

Coroner Steve Talbott, in his funeral home
(Photo by Michael S. Williamson, The Washington Post)
How many rural coroners, witnessing death after death from opioid overdoses, would call police in an effort to see how their county was being inundated by the misused prescription drugs? We don't know the answer to that question, but we do know what funeral director Steve Talbott, the elected coroner of Clinton County, Kentucky, for the last 25 years, did. He made the calls, and one result was the conviction of a local physician who shared a building with the pharmacy that dispensed more opioids per person per county in 2006-12 than any in the U.S.

Jenn Abelson, Andrew Ba Tran, Beth Reinhard and Aaron C. Davis of The Washington Post reported the story last week, following the Post's publication of other stories drawing on the Drug Enforcement Administration database for those years. Their story is a look at the opioid epidemic from the bottom up, in Albany, Paintsville and Booneville, Ky.; Kanab, Utah; and Carthage, Tenn., where pharmacies were funnels for large volumes of painkillers.

When Talbott responded as coroner to an overdose death, the Post reports, "Friends and relatives of the dead rarely had answers to Talbott’s questions: What kind of pills did they take and where did they come from? A toxicology report often answered the first question. It was the second one that typically eluded Talbott. As overdose deaths soared, Talbott repeatedly called the state police, hoping they could identify the source of opioids poisoning his community."

Clinton County (Wikipedia map)
Since 2006, 41 people have died of prescription opioid overdoses in the county of 10,000. Talbott told the Post that law enforcement took far too long to pay attention. "The federal investigation began in 2015 after Talbott noticed multiple overdose deaths involving patients of a local physician, Michael L. Cummings, and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure expert found Cummings’s treatment of several patients fell below minimum standards of care, court records show," the Post reports. "In 2017, Cummings was charged in federal court with the illegal distribution of controlled substances, which resulted in the deaths of three patients." He pleaded guilty in March to 13 counts of illegally prescribing controlled substances, and was sentenced July 24 to 30 months in prison and fined $400,000. Cummings had his medical practice in the same building as Shearer Drug.

The Post reports, "The 6.8 million opioid pills bought by Shearer Drug from 2006 through 2012 accounted for 66 percent of the total ordered by the county’s five pharmacies, according to The Post’s analysis." When Talbott heard those figures from the Post, he told the newspaper: “It’s a lot of pain medication for this little town.”

"Talbott, who said he grew up with [pharmacist Kent] Shearer and attended the same school, hasn’t talked to the pharmacist in a few months," the Post reports. "Talbott said the overdose deaths have waned since Cummings was indicted in 2017, but the epidemic is far from over." He told the paper, “There were just too many people dying from these drugs in such a small place. I hate these drugs. They are awful.”

Friday, August 16, 2019

First Amendment awareness campaign kicks off

Sample ad for the Think First campaign
A new campaign seeks to raise public awareness about the importance of defending our First Amendment rights. The Think First campaign was originally developed in 2018 by Media of Nebraska, but in July 2019 a number of other broadcast and press associations from other states decided to adapt the idea, and on Aug. 1 the expanded program went live. 

Think First includes materials for media outlets, including videos, radio spots, and newspaper ads. Click here for more information. 

Construction begun on first 60-acre Ky. greenhouse, part of a plan to get fresher produce to Eastern U.S. consumers

After years of work, Jonathan Webb is finally turning dirt. (Photo by Jessica Tezak for The Wall Street Journal)
In Morehead, Kentucky, ground has been broken on a project that, its founder hopes, will help bring jobs to Eastern Kentucky and supply fresher produce to the Eastern U.S. AppHarvest founder Jonathan Webb plans to build a series of huge greenhouses to grow tomatoes at first. The solar-power professional "has no prior experience in farming, but he has managed to attract $97 million in project financing and a list of noteworthy partners. Ultimately, he plans to spend $1 billion to $2 billion on greenhouses—even if it takes a decade or two," Leigh Kamping-Carder reports for The Wall Street Journal. Investors include Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance and AOL co-founder Steve Case.

The first step is a 60-acre greenhouse that Webb says will be operating by mid-2020. "Compared with traditional farms, indoor farms offset weather-related risks, reduce food waste, use drastically less water and produce more consistent crops. A modern, acre-size greenhouse can yield the same amount of produce as 40 to 50 acres of soil," Kamping-Carder reports. "Produce grown indoors also appeals to changing consumer preferences, as more Americans seek to reduce sugar and processed foods in their diets, eat more locally grown, chemical-free produce, and track the origins of their food."

Webb told Kamping-Carder there's plenty of demand for the product: "If we had 500 acres of supply tomorrow, we could sell all of that supply to U.S. grocers . . . We cannot build fast enough or grow fast enough to meet the demand of grocers or consumers." The project was originally supposed to be on a reclaimed strip mine in far Eastern Kentucky, but that didn't work out; the site is in the Knobs region that lies between the Bluegrass and the Appalachian coalfield.

Kamping-Carder writes that AppHarvest "is one of a growing number of technology-focused agricultural companies seeking to solve the problems of the U.S. food system—among them opaque supply chains, labor shortages, food waste, health and safety issues, higher import costs and an increasingly unpredictable climate—by growing food indoors."

Rural hospitals likely to take a hit from court limiting extra payments to those with large share of Medicaid, uninsured

Many if not most rural hospitals are likely to take a hit from an Aug. 13 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

"Hospitals that care for a large share of Medicaid, low-income and uninsured patients stand to receive less funding from the federal government after the D.C. Circuit reconsidered how Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital reimbursement is calculated," Alex Kacik reports for Modern Healthcare. "A three-judge panel . . . reversed a lower court and reinstated a 2017 rule establishing that payments by Medicare and private insurers are to be included in calculating a hospital's DSH limit, ultimately lowering its maximum reimbursement."

Hospitals qualify for disproportionate-share payments if they get a significant portion of their revenue from Medicaid, which usually doesn't cover the cost of care. And rural hospitals are more likely than others to fall into that category.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a rule in 2017 rule saying Medicare and private-insurance payments must be included when calculating the maximum disproportionate-share payment, part;y "to prevent hospitals from double-dipping by collecting DSH payments to cover costs that had already been reimbursed," Kacik reports. "Previous cases also revealed that some states have made DSH payments to state psychiatric or university hospitals that exceed the net costs, or even total costs, of operating the facilities."

Four children's hospitals in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, along with eight children's hospitals in Texas, filed suit to challenge the rule, saying CMS had overstepped its authority. The next step in the case could be an appeal to the Supreme Court or a hearing by all the judges on the appeals court, either of which could be denied without further hearings.

Work suspended on Mountain Valley Pipeline

Roanoke Times map
"Developers of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have voluntarily suspended work on parts of the embattled project, three days after a lawsuit raised questions about its impact on endangered species," Laurence Hammack reports for The Roanoke Times. "In a letter Thursday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Mountain Valley said the suspension covers 'new activities' that could pose a threat to the lives of endangered bats and fish, or potentially destroy their habitat."

On Monday, a group of environmental organizations petitioned the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate a 2017 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opinion that the pipeline would not significantly harm endangered species along the pipeline's route. "The 4th Circuit has already thrown out a similar permit issued for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, ruling that the federal agency had apparently 'lost sight of its mandate,'" Hammack reports.

Mountain Valley spokesperson Natalie Cox said construction will continue on other areas along the pipeline where no impact on endangered species is anticipated. About 238 of the pipeline's 303 miles have already been constructed. Cox said the move would not have any "material impact" on the number of workers employed and won't delay the expected mid-2020 completion date, Hammack reports.

"Most work will be halted on a 75-mile stretch, along watersheds in the counties of Giles, Craig, Montgomery, Roanoke, Franklin, and Pittsylvania. Another 20 miles, including some streams and rivers in West Virginia, are also included," Hammack reports. "Mountain Valley also said it would cease tree-felling in areas populated by endangered bats. But with the exception of a wooded slope in Montgomery County — where two tree-sitters have been blocking work on the pipeline since last September — nearly all of the trees the company had planned to cut are already gone."

This is far from the first delay for the pipeline on environmental grounds. Mountain Valley halted the project in Virginia for a while last summer because muddy runoff from construction caused erosion problems along a two-mile stretch. Then in August 2018 construction halted for a month after a federal appeals court vacated a permit to cross the Jefferson National Forest. In December. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed suit against the pipeline's builders, saying they had violated environmental regulations more than 300 times. "The company is still trying to regain two sets of key permits it lost to legal challenges last year, one for the pipeline to cross through the national forest and another for it to cross more than 1,000 streams and wetlands," Hammack reports.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

McConnell announces grant for former governor to create rural substance-abuse center for 101 counties in 8 states

Ernie Fletcher spoke in Owensboro, Ky., last year about
his plan to take the Recovery Kentucky concept beyond
Kentucky. (Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer)
An organization headed by a former Kentucky governor will get $6.6 million in federal funds "to establish a center of excellence for substance-abuse disorder and . . . provide treatment and housing options for low-income and high-risk individuals in 47 Kentucky counties," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a press release Aug. 15.

The money comes from the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program of the Department of Health and Human Services. It will go to the Fletcher Group, "which has partnered with the University of Kentucky to establish an opioid response program and will maintain its headquarters in rural Kentucky, the release said. "Its work will target 101 rural counties in eight states."

The group's chair and chief medical officer is Dr. Ernie Fletcher, a physician and Republican who was governor in 2003-07. He said in the release that the grant “will enable the Fletcher Group to establish a Rural Center of Excellence on Substance Use Disorder to continue to spread the successful Recovery Kentucky model to other parts of the commonwealth and beyond. The center will provide technical assistance to rural communities seeking to establish evidence-based treatment and recovery housing options for at-risk populations.” Fletcher, as governor, helped start Recovery Kentucky, a treatment program with housing. He was defeated for re-election by Democrat Steve Beshear, who continued the program.

Broadband too important for rural areas to not have it

Broadband internet access is increasingly important part of daily life, but many Americans are still doing without, especially in rural areas. About a third of rural Americans don't have a broadband connection at home, and remain about 12 percentage points less likely than other Americans to have it, according to recent findings from the Pew Research Center.

Access to high-speed internet is too important for so many people to not have it, Lara Fishbane and Adie Tomer write for the Brookings Institution: "If broadband is an essential part of daily American life in the 21st century, how can we be comfortable with the fact that over 19 million households do not have a mobile or in-home subscription? Imagine if an electricity outage like the 2003 Northeast blackout occurred every day. Or if the Flint water crisis impacted the entire states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. That’s the scale of broadband disconnect this country experiences."

The U.S. needs to aggressively pursue universal broadband adoption, but some lawmakers and members of the public may be unaware of how much it can help their communities, Fishbane and Tomer write. It's common knowledge that broadband access can enable people to apply for jobs online, but research suggests that even the act of performing online job searches can provide an emotional boost to a discouraged job-seeker.

"In turn, businesses reap benefits from e-recruiting by decreasing labor market search costs and achieving productivity gains through increased efficiencies," Fishbane and Tomer write. "Similar productivity gains can even be passed onto employees through higher wages and to consumers through lower prices. Broadband also helps employees increase their wages by sharpening their online and digital skill sets."

Broadband adoption can also increase civic engagement by making it easier for voters to find information and interact with local representatives. With better broadband connections, voters are more likely to vote and contribute to campaigns, Fishbane and Tomer write.

Guidebook aims to help agricultural communities develop child-care programs for farm workers' families

Access to good child care can help boost recruitment, retention and satisfaction in agricultural jobs, but it can be hard to find. A new guidebook aims to change that.

A Roadmap for Delivering Child Care in Agricultural Communities seeks to help them get child care programs off the ground, with practical tips on how to identify and meet their needs; adopt strategies on how to fund, build and market the program or center; and info on policy and legal considerations.

The roadmap was developed with input from farm-worker parents, farmers and other agricultural employers, human-resources directors, insurance providers and Head Start specialists. It's part of the "Protecting Children While Parents Work in Agriculture" project, an initiative of the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety and the Migrant Clinicians Network, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Interior watchdog office limits interactions with news media

The Interior Department's internal watchdog is investigating six Interior officials for potential ethics violations, including Secretary David Bernhardt and former Secretary Ryan Zinke, but won't be sharing any details with the press. A new policy in the Office of Inspector General prohibits its press office from providing journalists with any information beyond "Our work speaks for itself" or "We have no comment," Miranda Green reports for The Hill.

"The policy, which took effect Aug. 5, is a change from the previous practice of sometimes providing reporters with background or additional information," Green reports. "The policy change comes under the leadership of acting Inspector General Gail Ennis."

Ennis, a former partner at a law firm whose clients lobbied Interior, has risen quickly. President Trump appointed her Social Security Administration inspector general early this year, then added the Interior role in May. "Unlike most IG officials, who are usually career government employees, Ennis is a political appointee who previously contributed to Trump’s campaign," Green reports.

It's unclear whether Ennis's permanent replacement, Mark Lee Greenblatt, will continue the press policy when he assumes the role in the coming weeks, Green reports.

Report: Putting solar panels on farmland could help meet renewable energy needs and financially benefit farmers

The 20-megawatt Maricopa West project near Bakersfield, surrounded by almond groves. (L.A. Times photo by Al Seib)
The things that make American croplands perfect for growing also make many ideal for hosting solar panels: plenty of sunlight, low humidity, and moderate wind and temperatures. The practice, dubbed agrivoltaics, could offset a significant chunk of global non-renewable electricity demands while alleviating concerns that solar installations will take up large swaths of otherwise useful land, according to a newly published study in Scientific Reports.

"The findings raise a pair of potential implications: One possibility is that land-intensive solar uses will increasingly compete with agriculture for available acres. That competition has already manifested in conflicts between the two industries, and some states have adopted rules establishing boundaries on the use of valuable farmland for gathering solar energy," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture newsletter. "On the other hand, crop growers could see financial benefits from developing agrivoltaic systems that could help power their farm operations."

The practice is becoming more popular in California, where limited water supplies hinder many farmers. "In the San Joaquin Valley alone, farmers may need to take more than half a million acres out of production to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will ultimately put restrictions on pumping," Sammy Roth reports for the Los Angeles Times. "Converting farmland to solar farms also could be key to meeting California’s climate change targets. That’s according to a new report from the Nature Conservancy."

Why both incarceration and crime rates dropped in 34 states

The United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world, with slightly under 1.5 million in state and federal prisons and 750,000 in local jails in 2017. But "between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates simultaneously, showing clearly that reducing mass incarceration does not come at the cost of public safety," Cameron Kimble and Ames Grawert report for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Though the nationwide crime rate is near a 40-year low, the drop in prison population from 2007 to 2017 is more because of court orders and policy changes, Kimble and Grawert report. There is considerable state and regional variation too: at the ends of the spectrum are Massachusetts, whose imprisonment rate fell by half, and Arkansas, whose rate increased 19 percent. Massachusetts was helped by the steepest decline in crime rate in the nation, about 40%; a lot was due to new laws that reduced sentences for non-violent drug offenders and decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.

"It’s tough to say why some states successfully reduced their prison population while others failed. One possible commonality relates to socioeconomic well-being. Over half of the states where imprisonment rates grew had poverty rates above the national average as well," Kimble and Grawert report. "Those states were also some of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. West Virginia typifies this experience: crime rates dropped, but incarceration rose amidst the state’s struggles with opioid abuse and poverty."

Much of the Deep South, including Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, saw reductions in imprisonment rates, but many of those states still have some of the largest prison populations in the nation. "The Northeast saw the largest average decline in imprisonment rate (24%), with only Pennsylvania recording an increase (3%). Crime rates also dropped fastest in the Northeast region, falling by just over 30% on average," Kimble and Grawert report.

Meanwhile, the imprisonment rate in the Midwest dropped an average of only 1%; that was mostly because of a 20% reduction in Michigan due to criminal justice reforms focusing on reducing recidivism. Some central states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee either stalled or increased their imprisonment rates. The rising opioid epidemic and punishment-focused response may be at the root. "Kentucky, for example, recently increased penalties for heroin trafficking and doubled penalties for crimes involving fentanyl," Kimble and Grawert report.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kentucky-based tobacco cooperative is investing in hemp

The cooperative founded to help farmers of burley tobacco, a key ingredient in cigarettes, is facing a declining market and worsening finances, and at least one of its leaders thinks it should go out of business. Instead, it is putting $1 million into hemp, which the state agriculture commissioner, son of that leader, says is "a high-risk crop."

The Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, formed in 1921, has almost $35 million in assets, but "has struggled to find a role since the ending of the federal support program in 2005," Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "It is now sitting on thousands of pounds of unsold tobacco in a declining market and is operating at a loss, losing almost half a million dollars a year since 2014," according to a report the cooperative commissioned.

Former co-op chair Roger Quarles, who is still a director, proposed last month that the co-op dissolve itself and distribute its assets to members "before the money dries up," Patton writes. In a July guest editorial in The Farmer's Pride, the state's agricultural newspaper, he suggested burley farmers could each get up to $14,000 if the co-op dissolves now.

Instead, the co-op's executive committee voted to buy up to $1 million worth of hemp from Kentucky farmers, have it processed by its Tennessee counterpart into hemp oil. Directors to whom Patton spoke declined to discuss specifics, but Chairman Pat Raines "said that they already have a buyer who wants to purchased the potential oil," Patton reports.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, son of Roger Quarles, is a big advocate of hemp but declined to comment on the co-op's move. "I always say it's a high-risk commodity," he told Patton. Amid a surge of permits to grow hemp, there is concern about oversupply, which plagued tobacco until Congress created the federal program of quotas and price supports in 1938.

Recent ICE raids rock rural towns where workers lived

One week after 680 chicken-plant employees in Mississippi were arrested in the largest immigration sting in more than a decade, the towns where they lived and worked are still reeling.

Many businesses that serve local immigrants have seen a sharp decline in revenue since the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid, and some may have to close. The seven communities most affected range in size from about 300 people to 12,000, Justin Vicory, Lici Beveridge and Alissa Zhu report for the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

More than 300 of the people originally detained have been released with orders to appear in front of immigration judges, but though they're back in the community for now, they're unlikely to be able to work, and therefore can't spend as much at local businesses, the Clarion Ledger reports.

Southern Mississippi residents interviewed by the Clarion Ledger seemed to have mixed feelings about the raid. Haily Gaskill, who manages a convenience store in Bay Hill, said her business will be hurt by the raid since it's the last such store heading out of town. She empathized with the affected workers, saying that many locals won't work, but that immigrants, who "get up every morning and bust their asses" are being "punished," the newspaper reports.

Teri Graham, who works at a Bay Springs fruit and vegetable stand, told the Clarion Ledger that "I think they’re hardworking people who are trying to improve themselves, but I also think the jobs should be given to local people."

Most Iowa farmers interviewed by Wall Street Journal at state fair appear to be sticking with Trump through trade war

Farmers at the Minnesota State Fair in Minnesota vented to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue about the trade war with China, but The Wall Street Journal's sampling of farmers at the Iowa State Fair this week found that most are sticking with him.

"He's doing a good job and trying to make sure we're treated fairly," said Kevin Prevo, a fifth-generation farmer who raises corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs, and plans to vote for Trump again in 2020. Another fifth-gen farmer, Leo Balk, said Trump is "doing the right thing . . . It hurts, but his concept is absolutely right."

John McCormick and Jesse Narnanjo report, "One of the reasons farmers are showing so much patience with Mr. Trump, even as commodity prices have suffered, is because his administration has provided tariff-related aid to farmers. . . . In the wake of agricultural consolidation in recent decades, farmers aren’t nearly as large a group as they once were. But in heavily rural states like Iowa, which Mr. Trump won by almost 10 percentage points in 2016, they could still be an important voting bloc in 2020."

Not all of the dozen or so farmers the WSJ spoke to support Trump. Dan Taylor said he didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and compared farmers to evangelical Christians who, he believes, support Trump though some of his actions run counter to their beliefs: "The ag sector is the same way . . . They’ll still give him their loyalty, even though the trade war isn’t doing ag any good."

Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, told the newspaper that he's glad to see Democratic presidential candidates are trying harder to reach out to rural voters in the state whose caucuses start the voting, but warns them not to conflate farmers and rural voters. "Some farmers, Mr. Vilsack said, are also starting to realize the trade situation wouldn’t be so dire if Mr. Trump had built a coalition and made it harder for the Chinese to target U.S. agriculture," McCormick and Naranjo report.

Regardless, many say they're willing to stick with Trump. Adam Nechanicky, who farms soybeans, corn and cattle, said he doesn't believe Trump is "out trying to hurt the farmers . . . A deal worth doing is not going to be easy. It’s going to take a little bit of pain to make it better."

Blue-green 'algae' blooms threaten dogs and livestock

Blue-green algae (Kansas State University Extension photo)
This time of year, it's normal to see a scum of algae in lakes and ponds; be careful about letting your dog or livestock come into contact with such water. Blue-green cyanobacteria, often referred to as algae, can kill. Two North Carolina women learned that when all three of their dogs died after swimming in a pond laden with the stuff.

"The health threats to animals range from skin rashes to neurological problems. The blooms can release toxins that can cause liver damage, lead to respiratory paralysis or produce other fatal conditions," Christine Hauser reports for The New York Times. "Intense blooms have led to swimming bans from lakes in the Pacific Northwest to the entire Mississippi seacoast, to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey’s largest lake. Algal blooms tend to thrive in high temperatures and after heavy rains carry fertilizer runoff and sewage into waterways."

Blue-green cyanobacteria can go undetected below the water's surface or dry up in crusts onshore, so check carefully before allowing your dog or livestock to go swimming, wallowing or drinking, Hauser reports. The blooms may vary in color to gray, red or brown, and can establish themselves quickly in a pond, A.J. Tarpoff reports for Drovers. Click here for tips on how to sample and remedy blue-green "algae" in your water.

"Dangerous algal blooms are a 'major environmental problem' in all 50 states, and scientists believe they will continue to wreak havoc on U.S. waterways with the rising threat of climate change, according to the Environmental Protection Agency," Katie Mettler reports for The Washington Post. "Red-tide algal blooms have killed marine life on the Florida and Mississippi coasts."

21 states and six cities states sue EPA over its reduction of Obama-era restrictions on coal-fired power plants

A group of 21 states and six cities have filed suit against the Trump administration, arguing that its decision to weaken restrictions on coal-fired power plants doesn't meaningfully limit greenhouse gases, therefore violating the federal Clean Air Act.

"In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eliminated the agency’s Clean Power Plan and replaced it with a new rule that gives states more leeway in deciding upgrades for coal-fired power plants," Don Thompson and Adam Beam report for The Associated Press. EPA's analysis predicted an extra 300 to 1,500 people will die annually by 2030 because of extra air pollution in the power grid, but EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said recently that Americans want "reliable energy that they can afford."

Attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia filed suit, along with six local governments: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, South Miami and Boulder, Colo.

The plaintiffs also argues that the new rule will increase overall pollution by extending the life of aging coal-burning plants, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom called an effort to "prop up the coal industry," AP reports.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whose state produced the second most coal behind Wyoming in 2017, predicted the suit will ultimately fail at the Supreme Court, which stayed an earlier Obama administration attempt in 2016 at the request of a competing 27-state coalition," the AP reports. Morrisey said the coalition is "dead wrong" in its interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Amid big merger, many smaller papers do well; experts say keys are a quality product and 'real ties to the community'

Kevin Slimp
If the pending marriage of Gannett Co. and GateHouse Media is to be a success, the merged company's managers will have to remember that their newspapers should be about producing quality journalism and a sense of community, two knowledgeable observers told Jonathan O'Connell of The Washington Post.

Community newspaper consultant Kevin Slimp of Knoxville, Tenn., says in a post on his State of Newspapers site that he surprised O'Connell by telling him that the U.S. still has about 12,000 newspapers in the country, and "that most, not all, but most papers are doing fine financially."

O'Connell reports that Slimp's survey of about 400 publishers last year found that for successful papers, in Slimp's words, “Job number one is to put out a good product. Job number two is to realize that your business is still mainly on the print side.”

"Slimp is a longtime critic of newspapers’ rush to cut their staffs and race to digital platforms once the Internet began cutting into business," O'Connell notes. "When that failed, he said, private equity investors and Wall Street sharks arrived and further gutted the papers for profits."

“They should not have ignored their main products, and they should not have reduced their staffs,” Slimp told the Post. “When you start getting rid of reporters, no one wants to read your paper.”

O'Connell writes, "There is some data to suggest that this time around could be different: that newspapers — while nowhere near as robust as they once were -— could find some stability in balancing their print and online businesses as part of large chains. Gannett increased digital-only subscriptions by 34 percent from the same time last year to 561,000."

But Bernie Lunzer, the president of NewsGuild-CWA, the labor union for newspaper journalists, told O'Connell that he fears the merged chain will have “layoffs and more cookie-cutter journalism.”

"Lunzer agrees that the future of local news largely relies on success online and a degree of corporate efficiency. But he’s worried more financial machinations from Wall Street and out-of-town owners will short circuit the required solutions," O'Connell writes, quoting him: “Creating real ties to the community — that’s the only way these things are going to work. And I just don’t think that corporations think that way.”

USDA says prevented planting set to hit a record high this year because of wet weather; corn futures plummet

Farmers were unable to plant a record 19 million acres because of rain and flooding earlier this year, according to the Farm Service Agency's first estimate of 2019 prevented planting, released Monday.

That tallies up to about 11.2 million acres of corn, 4.35 million acres of soybeans, and 2.2 million acres of wheat, the Department of Agriculture agency said that. By comparison, prevented planting last year was about 2 million acres, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's "Morning Agriculture."

"USDA also released its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates — which immediately sent corn futures prices lower. The department surprised traders by raising its forecast for corn production to 13.9 billion bushels and corn yields to 169.5 bushels per acre. Meanwhile, it lowered its estimate of 2019-20 corn exports by 100 million bushels," McCrimmon reports. "The plummet in corn prices was the steepest drop in six years, and it sent ripples through the commodity markets . . . Some market watchers saw the higher-than-expected corn estimates as proof that farmers were planting more crops than they normally would, given the poor weather conditions, in order to get a bigger paycheck under USDA’s trade relief program."

Poultry shares increased because of the prospect of cheaper animal feed, but stocks for farming equipment makers went down, as traders anticipated lower farm income and fewer purchases of farming machinery. McCrimmon reports.

Buttegieg, Warren release rural health plans; Daily Yonder launches Democratic candidate rural policy tracker

Pete Buttegieg
Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttegieg and Elizabeth Warren have released rural health care plans; here's the gist:

Buttegieg's plan would include "Medicare for All Who Want It"—a public option, basically— and increase subsidies for Obamacare exchange plans. It would also expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and increase Medicare reimbursement rates for providers in under-served areas, and extend the amount of time certain foreign doctors can work in the U.S. "The plan also addresses mental health addiction and maternal mortality. It invests in telehealth and attempts to tackle health disparities across rural communities," Brianna Ehley reports for Politico.

The plan "closely mirrors that of other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposals on reimbursement, telehealth and workforce disparities, and Sen. Michael Bennet’s call for . . . new payment policies to tackle social determinants of health," Inside Health Policy reports.

Elizabeth Warren
Warren's plan would increase the Federal Trade Commission's authority to block big hospital mergers, which she says decrease competition. Her plan also calls for increased funding to fight the opioid epidemic, expanded student-loan forgiveness programs, more community-health and birthing centers, improved transportation to rural hospitals, and increased Medicare reimbursement for rural hospitals. She also wants increased broadband access in rural areas for telemedicine, Chelsea Cirruzzo reports for Inside Health Policy.

The Daily Yonder has just launched a page to help you keep track of Democratic presidential candidates' promises about rural policy. Click here to read it.

The Rural Blog reports major statements by presidential candidates about rural policy.