Friday, April 26, 2019

USA Today publishes database of local police misconduct

USA Today screenshot
USA Today reporters John Kelly and Mark Nichols revealed this week that 85,000 law-enforcement officers across the nation have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade.

Offenders have planted evidence, harassed women, dealt drugs, driven drunk and assaulted their spouses or domestic partners. Records of such transgressions are often “filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments,” USA Today reports. “Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.”

The USA Today Network, Gannett Co.'s brand name for its newspaper chain, has gathered those records and started publishing them. The first collection includes 30,000 officers in 44 states. It's searchable by name of an officer or agency, or you can get a lost of all the decertified officers in each state.

What's good for livestock is also good for ranchers, Dr. Temple Grandin tells beef meeting in Texas Panhandle

Dr. Temple Grandin spoke at the 2019 Beef Conference in
Canadian, Tex. (Photo by Laurie Ezzell Brown, The Canadian Record)
Cattle ranchers in the Texas Panhandle got a treat last week when Dr. Temple Grandin, "a pioneer in improving the handling and welfare of farm animals," spoke at the annual Beef Conference in Hemphill County, Cathy Ricketts reports for The Canadian Record, the local weekly. Her story is an example of how a trade-group conference can offer an opportunity to produce journalism that reveals interesting aspects of an industry that many people may understand only superficially.

"It was inspirational and informative for anyone—not just ranchers and those in the cattle-raising and processing industries," Ricketts writes. "Dr. Grandin . . . is said to be able to 'think like a cow.' Her unique perspective has opened wide the door to how animals respond to stress. Her research from more than 40 years ago proved that agitated cattle produce lower weight gains." She is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an internationally known expert on livestock welfare.

Grandin’s talk, “Stress-free Cattle Handling,” argued that what's good for livestock is also good for livestock producers. Ricketts paraphrases her: "If an animal becomes scared or excited, it takes a 20-30 minutes to calm them down again. If you yell at an animal, they know you are mad at them. Animals can be frightened by sudden novelty, especially in unfamiliar environments. It is important to have them habituated to different people, different vehicles, what’s it’s like to hear speakers, and to be in noisier areas. The signs for fearful and upset cattle are heads up, ears pinned back, pooping, tail twitching, and when you see eye white. . . . Electric prods are only for extreme circumstances when an animal refuses to move; they are never to be used as a primary driving tool. Waiting for cattle to process something like a puddle at a gate can take time, but if you don’t, you could spend the rest of the day chasing them around.

“Good handling takes more walking,” and means working with smaller groups of cattle, Grandin said. She "emphasized the flight zone, the animal’s safety zone," Ricketts writes, quoting her: “It’s almost like a force field, and is determined by genetics and previous experience. Cattle who see people every day have a smaller flight zone.”

On larger issues, Grandin said the meat-production system has “pushed biology too hard.” Ricketts paraphrases: "When an animal is bred just for meat, other issues, such as abnormal leg confirmation, can result. There has been a problem with livers that come apart when cattle are fed substandard rations. Over-selection for traits is detrimental, she says, with the fact that manipulating genetics often comes with trade-offs.

“If an animal is a country, and I’ve got a national budget, and I just select them for the economy— meat, milk—I’ve got nothing left for bones, that’s infrastructure, the heart. I now run a Mack truck on a motorcycle engine ... then I’ve shortchanged the military, that’s the immune function, to fight disease,” Grandin said. She "stressed being aware of the animal’s overall condition: the coat, presence of ammonia or dirt, lameness, and sores," Ricketts reports. "One big indicator of stress is an animal breathing with their mouth open. She urged the audience to make sure 'to have good animal welfare'."

Farming booms in Alaska, Census of Agriculture shows

The Matanuska Valley, where most Alaska
farms are found, is known for big cabbages.
The number of American farms is declining, largely from consolidation, but a state not known for farming saw a 30 percent increase between 2012-17, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's "Morning Agriculture" newsletter, citing a story by Liz Crampton on subscriber-only ProAg , based on the latest Census of Agriculture.

"The growth can partly be attributed to the relative youth of the state's agriculture industry. It's experiencing the same trajectory that regions like the Midwest and the South did decades ago," McCrimmon writes. Amy Pettit, executive director of the Alaska Farmland Trust, told Crampton: "It's the wild, wild West up here, and if you have access to land, you can grow whatever you want."

"Alaska has the nation's highest percentage of beginning farmers, with 46 percent of its producers having fewer than 10 years experience," McCrimmon writes. "Many are selling at farmers' markets, which have surged since 2006. At that time, there were 13 in the state, while today there are more than 50."

While Alaska has a shorter growing season, it's enough for many fruits and vegetables, and they have a higher sugar content because of the longer daylight at high latitudes in spring and summer. "This makes the produce sweeter when harvested," McCrimmon notes.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Webinar from 1 to 2 p.m. Thursday, May 2, offers solutions to the opioid epidemic in rural America

How 2 ex-miners fell in love, moved to a farm, got into woodworking, and lived on making kitchen utensils

Rural Nevada Democrats organize virtual campaign events for growing field of presidential candidates

Visiting rural areas is time-consuming and expensive for presidential candidates, which means they visit less frequently. But Kimi Cole wanted to see more candidates in her rural Nevada town of Minden, population 3,400, so she and other state Democrats are creating a series of virtual campaign visits for the growing field of candidates.

"They hope to launch the first series of online video conferences with the 2020 contenders within a month," Michelle Price reports for The Associated Press. "It could be a nationwide model as presidential candidates expand the traditional campaign map to seek support in places where Democrats have struggled, including rural America."

Cole, who chairs the Rural Nevada Democratic Caucus, said the project will allow rural residents to ask candidates about issues that might not get much attention in urban areas. It could give candidates in a crowded primary field a way to stand out, Price reports.

Organizers are trying to make sure they have adequate broadband to accommodate the events. The plan so far is to hold eight to 10 simultaneous video conferences in rural areas across the state. Democratic candidates would go on, one by one, and talk to participants. At least six candidates have said they're interested, Price reports.

Only one candidate, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, has campaigned in rural Nevada in person, speaking to about 100 people in Minden last week, Alexandra Jaffe and Meg Kinnard report for AP.

Column: W.Va. town suffered after paper closed and local officials weren't held accountable during flood recovery

Andy Prutsok
Andy Prutsok, publisher of the Miles City Star in Montana, wrote a column recently with a cautionary tale about how towns suffer when no local newspaper keeps officials accountable.

Prutsok's first newspaper job after college was with the News Leader in Richwood, West Virginia. Once a booming lumber town, by the time Prutsok got there in 1984, fewer than 2,000 people lived there and the town was "already a shell of its former self," he writes. The decline continued after Prutsok left, and in the late 1990s the News Leader closed.

After disastrous flooding in 2016, Richwood residents pitched in to clean up and rebuild, aided by $3.1 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the state auditor found that city leaders used that disaster funding to hire themselves and friends for flood relief jobs and otherwise wasted most of the money. "As a result, the mayor, the former mayor and the city recorder are charged with embezzlement,: Prutsok writes. "The town’s police chief is accused of mishandling his state purchasing card and was fired and the town council asked the mayor to resign. The town might have to pay back over $2 million of the money received."

Though it's unclear whether the problem was corruption, or honest but overwhelmed leaders, Prutsok says the underlying problem was the absence of a local newspaper. If the News Leader were still around, and sending a reporter to cover city council, "someone, working on behalf of the citizens, would have been in attendance as these decisions were being discussed and enacted, reporting all of it to the public," Prutsok writes.

As more and more small local papers close, "considering the recent raging floods taking place in the Midwest, how many more Richwoods are going to happen?" Prutsok writes.

Psychologist sees sharp increase in suicidal farmers after record-breaking flooding in Midwest

A clinical psychologist who works with suicidal farmers says the recent flooding in the Midwest has left many farmers—and him—near their breaking point. Read the story.

Apply for local food promotion program grants by June 18

This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $23 million in competitive grant funding for programs that develop and expand local and regional food markets, businesses and producer-to-consumer marketing. The USDA release said, "Eligible applicants include agricultural businesses or cooperatives, producer networks or associations, community supported agriculture networks or associations, food councils, local governments, nonprofit corporations, public benefit corporations, economic development corporations, regional farmers market authorities, and tribal governments."

The Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program were authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill under the Local Agricultural Marketing Program. The FMPP funds producer-to-consumer projects that go for three years and range from $50,000 to $500,000. The LFPP funds local and regional food business projects that go for 18 months or three years and range from $25,000 to $500,000. Both programs require matching funds equal to 25 percent of the total federal portion of the grant. Applications for both programs must be submitted electronically through by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 18, 2019.

When local newspapers shrink, fewer people run for mayor

Strong local newspapers help their communities healthier financially, politically, and civically. They're "basically little machines that spit out healthier democracies," Joshua Benton reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab. Newly published research has found yet one more link between local newspapers and their communities' civic health: when dailies cut their coverage of local government, fewer people run for mayor.

Meghan Rubado, assistant professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University and Jay Jennings, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas Austin, examined mayoral races and political coverage in 11 local newspapers in California. "The data show that cities served by newspapers with relatively sharp declines in newsroom staffing had, on average, significantly reduced political competition in mayoral races," they write.

Strong local coverage also correlated with tighter margins in mayoral elections. At a paper with a circulation of 10,000: "With five newsroom staffers, the predicted margin of victory in a typical mayor’s race is about 50 percent. With 15 newsroom staffers, it drops to 33 percent. With 20, it drops to 24 percent," Benton reports.

"This isn’t the first paper to connect newspapers’ health to the number of candidates for local office. One paper I’ve long been partial to used the natural experiment of the Cincinnati Post’s closure in 2007 to determine that, in the places where the paper had had the most readers, 'fewer candidates ran for municipal office [in the next local election]. Incumbents became more likely to win re-election, and voter turnout and campaign spending fell,'" Benton writes.

However, most research has focused on newspaper closures rather than coverage reduction, Benton writes, which makes this study more relevant to most newspapers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Supreme Court hears census citizenship-question case; data show immigration boosts many rural counties

Counties where immigration prevented or minimized population loss (Stateline map based on U.S. Census Bureau data; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version)
Immigrants prevented or minimized population loss in a fifth of U.S. counties last year, and many of those are rural counties with agricultural or manufacturing jobs, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. But some of those folks are unlikely to be counted in the 2020 census if the Supreme Court allows the Trump administration to add a question about citizenship to the questionnaire.

After hearing almost 90 minutes of oral arguments, the court's "conservative majority seemed willing Tuesday to defer" to the change, "despite evidence it could lead to an undercount of millions of people," Robert Barnes and Mark Berman report for The Washington Post.

The Census Bureau has estimated that asking whether respondents are citizens will result in about 6.5 million fewer people being counted, and would most affect states and urban areas with a lot of Hispanics and immigrants, which tend to vote Democratic, Barnes and Berman report.

"That could reduce Democratic representation when congressional districts are allocated in 2021 and affect how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending are distributed," Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times. "Courts have also found that Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas could risk losing seats in the House, and that several states could lose federal money."

"Every lower-court judge to consider the issue found that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal law and regulations in attempting to include the question on the census," Barnes and Berman report. "The lower-court judges starkly rebutted Ross’s claim that the information was requested by the Justice Department to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities, and they noted his consultations with hard-line immigration advocates in the White House beforehand."

The Supreme Court's more liberal judges, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, seemed skeptical about the citizenship question, and indicated during oral arguments that they were worried the question would reduce compliance and result in less-accurate data. Meanwhile, "three of the court’s conservatives — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — indicated in an earlier iteration of the case that they were uncomfortable with the judicial branch playing a deciding role in which questions were asked or deleted," Barnes and Berman report.

"The challengers’ best hopes seem to be in persuading either Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. or Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Trump’s most recent nominee to the court, to uphold the lower courts’ decisions. But both seemed more accepting of" the administration's arguments, Barnes and Berman report. The court is expected to announce its decision in late June.

In a national first, a major drug distributor and its former executives are criminally charged for worsening opioid crisis

"In a national first in the fight against the opioid crisis, a major drug distribution company, its former chief executive and another top executive have been criminally charged in New York," Tom Winter and Elisha Fieldstadt report for NBC News.

Rochester Drug Co-Operative, former CEO Laurence Doud III and former compliance chief William Pietruszewski were charged. The company, one of the top 10 drug distributors in the nation, was charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics laws, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and willfully failing to file suspicious-order reports with the Drug Enforcement Administration. It entered a plea agreement in the criminal case and a settlement in the civil case. Pietruszewski, charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and willfully failing to file suspicious order reports with the DEA, pleaded guilty under a cooperation agreement. Doud was charged with conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.; if convicted, he faces a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence, Winter and Fieldstadt report.

The indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges that Doud "ordered subordinates to ignore red flags about certain pharmacy customers to maximize company revenues and his own pay, which more than doubled between 2012 and 2016 as the company's sales of drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl skyrocketed," Winter and Fieldstadt report. The indictment also alleges that "Doud and other top executives 'made the deliberate decision' not to investigate, monitor or alert federal regulators about pharmacy customers they knew were providing opioids to people who wanted them for non-medical uses."

Between 2012 and 2016, Rochester's sales of oxycodone pills grew from 4.7 million to 42.2 million, and their fentanyl sales grew from about 63,000 dosages to more than 1.3 million. In that time frame, the company identified about 8,300 suspicious orders but only reported four, Winter and Fieldstadt report.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday; find a prescription surrender site near you

A twice-yearly opportunity to safely surrender prescription drugs will be held Saturday, April 27, at locations nationwide.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is a good way for rural residents to combat opioid abuse, according to Anne Hazlett, senior adviser for rural affairs at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She recently spoke with the American Farm Bureau's Michael Clements for a podcast about the event.

Many of the more than 70,000 Americans who died from drug overdoses in 2017 happened because of opioids, many in rural areas. Hazlett noted that prescription drugs played a significant role in many of those overdoses: "When you step back and look at some of the research, we also find that many people who struggle with addiction didn’t get those drugs from a drug dealer. They got them from friends or family that had unused medication lying around in their homes."

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is an initiative of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Find out more about the program or find a take back site near you here.

Weak market conditions in February trigger second federal payout from new dairy risk-management program

Some dairy farmers who signed up for a new risk-management program will get a second payout, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The second payment was triggered by market conditions in February 2019, when the income-over-feed cost margin was $8.22 per hundredweight of milk. Conditions in January qualified producers for the first payment.

The Dairy Margin Coverage program, established by the 2018 Farm Bill, replaced the old Margin Protection Program. It's a voluntary program that helps protect dairy producers when the difference between the average price and the average feed cost falls below a certain amount chosen by the producer. Dairy producers who select DMC coverage level of between $8.50 and $9.50 will be eligible for a payment for February 2019.

DMC signups will open by mid-June. Click here to find out more about the program.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

May 1 is deadline for nominations for Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism

Tom and Pat Gish
The deadline for nominations for the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, tenacity and integrity in rural journalism has been extended, and will now be accepted through May 1. To nominate a candidate, send a detailed letter explaining how the nominee shows the kind of exemplary courage, tenacity and integrity that Tom and Pat Gish demonstrated at The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for 51 years. Documentation does not have to accompany the nomination, but is helpful in choosing finalists, and additional documentation may be requested or required. Send your nominating letter and initial documentation to or 343 S. Martin Luther King Blvd., #206, Lexington KY 40506.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues named the award in 2005 for Tom and Pat Gish, who died in 2008 and 2014, respectively. Their son Ben is editor and publisher of the Eagle and serves on the award selection committee. The Gishes withstood advertiser boycotts, business competition, declining population, personal attacks, and even the burning of their office to give their readers the kind of journalism often lacking in rural areas, and were the first winners of the award named for them.

The Institute seeks nominations that measure up, at least in major respects, to the records of the Gishes and other previous winners. The award has gone only to newspaper people, but rural broadcasters and online journalists are eligible. Past winners have been the Ezzell family of The Canadian Record in the Texas panhandle; Jim Prince and Stanley Dearman, current and late publishers of The Neshoba Democrat in Philadelphia, Miss.; Samantha Swindler of The Oregonian for her work at The Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky., and Jacksonville Daily Progress in Texas; Stanley Nelson and the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.; Jonathan and Susan Austin of the now-defunct Yancey County News in western North Carolina; Landon Wills of the McLean County News in Kentucky; the Trapp family of the Rio Grande Sun in northern New Mexico; Ivan Foley of the Platte County Landmark in Missouri; the Cullen family of the Storm Lake Times in Iowa; and Les Zaitz of The Malheur Enterprise in eastern Oregon.

Supreme Court hears oral arguments in FOIA case to decide if SNAP payments to retailers are public record

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a long-running case about whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture must release retail sales data about how much of their business comes from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been pursuing the case since 2011, arguing that the public has a right to know where and how taxpayer dollars are spent. Retailers don't want to comply with the paper's request, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, since it would likely affect public perception: "Public perception of major retailers is at stake, because releasing a breakdown of sales data would undoubtedly open a new debate about how retailers rely on SNAP as a major share of their sales. Walmart, for example, has long been criticized for taking in a large share of SNAP dollars, while many of its employees utilize the program. Amazon is increasingly facing similar scrutiny," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico.

"Much of the argument in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media centered on the meaning and intent of the word “confidential” and its use in the Freedom of Information Act," Jonathan Ellis reports for the Argus Leader. "The justices appeared conflicted between upholding the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law, and the desire to stick to the literal meaning of the word 'confidential.'"

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said one of the goals of the FOIA was to make information public that officials didn't want to reveal, but Justice Neil Gorsuch noted that the word "confidential" apparently had another definition in a different section of the FOIA law, and questioned why the court should give the same word two different meanings, Ellis reports.

"The Argus Leader has argued that money paid to retailers selling groceries in the SNAP program are spending records of taxpayer payments," Ellis reports. "Retailers argued that the taxpayer payments should be treated as confidential commercial information and withheld from the public under an exemption to FOIA that protects trade secrets and confidential financial information."

Op-ed writer offers suggestions for Democratic candidates looking to reconnect with rural voters

Rural America has become increasingly Republican for almost 30 years, though Democrats gained a little in rural Trump strongholds in the 2018 midterm elections. If Democrats want to make inroads in rural America, they need to understand a few things first, Ron Formisano writes in an op-ed for the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky.

Democrats must first understand the growing rural-urban cultural rift, and that people on both sides of that rift believe those on the other side don't respect them. Dems must also understand that rural voters don't like Democrats, but most like Democratic policies, according to a Daily Yonder poll, Formisano writes.

"The poll reflects rural people’s sense that their way of life is slipping away leading them to favor policies to protect their quality of life. More than 90 percent of voters in small towns and rural areas support investment in small businesses and preserving rural schools. Large majorities want hunting and fishing habitats protected, support for rural grocery stores with healthy food and for rehabilitation not prison for drug addicts," Formisano writes. "Putting Democrats in office will give rural folks a better chance of realizing this wish-list. Democrats should take notice specifically that majorities in rural areas support free tuition for community colleges (66 percent), expanding Medicare for all (63 percent) and raising the minimum wage (54 percent)."

Democrats might also find favor with rural voters by challenging laws, supported by big businesses and agri-businesses, that hurt small towns and farmers, Formisano writes.

"Oh, and Democrats, let rural people know you want to do something about the scourge of opioids, heroin, meth, and fentanyl ravaging lives and communities," Formisano writes. He also advises that one of the most important things candidates can do is show up and listen to rural concerns: "In the 2018 Sixth District Congressional election Democrat Amy McGrath carried just two counties, Fayette and Franklin, doing best in the counties of the Lexington-Frankfort axis. Although she lost heavily in the most rural and poorest counties, McGrath who campaigned through the entire district, won more votes in 16 out of 18 counties than Clinton in 2016. Letting people know you want their votes is a good start."

Formisano is the author of "American Oligarchy: The Permanent Political Class", which argues that the American political system has created a powerful, corrupt political class that contributes to societal inequality.

Mueller report reveals Russians used picture of Democrat coal miner who died from black-lung in Trump posters

The Mueller report revealed widespread attempts by Russians to help President Trump win the 2016 election, and included examples of their social media posts and posters. One such example stood out to retired West Virginia coal miner Ronnie Hipshire: on page 31 of the Mueller report was a photo of his father Lee Hipshire on a poster advertising a pro-Trump rally, Sacha Pfeiffer and Wynee Davis report for NPR. The rally, and poster, were purported to be created by a group called Miners for Trump.

"In the photo taken by photographer Earl Dotter, Lee is seen after what Hipshire says was 'a hard day's work' as he emerges from a mine in Logan County, W.Va. His shift had ended, and the grit of his mining work covered his face. It's a striking image, but one that Hipshire says his father would not have wanted used to support President Trump," Pfeiffer and Davis report.

That's because Lee Hipshire was a staunch Democrat who died of complications from black-lung disease, and "never would have even thought about putting his face on something like that," Hipshire told NPR. He said he's frustrated, but doesn't know how anyone could stop bad actors from stealing such images. "I don't know what you would do to keep them from doing it . . . How could you block the Internet down?"

Tune in for webinar -- or head to regional workshops -- on rural broadband grant and loan program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Rural Development will host a webinar and several regional workshops to help community leaders learn more about a new federal program aimed at expanding rural broadband. The ReConnect program, which begins accepting applications today, will administer up to $600 million in grants and loans for rural broadband buildout.

The webinar will be held at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, April 26 and will take about an hour. You can register for the webinar here. If you're unable to tune in, a recording of the webinar will be released online later. Learn more about the webinar here.

Here are the two-day regional workshops scheduled thus far. These intensive workshops will help attendees navigate the application process. Learn more or register here.

  • April 23-24 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Welches, Oregon
  • May 8-9, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, in Auburn, Alabama
  • May 15-16 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Philanthropy fund aims to help rural areas, bridge divides

A new pooled-funding initiative wants to advance progressive philanthropic projects in rural America, and possibly bridge some of the rural-urban political divide in the process.

"The Heartland Fund, and the foundations and consultants behind it, are trying to facilitate a turnaround of decades of philanthropic neglect of rural and suburban areas and small cities, starting with organizing and issue advocacy in the Midwest," Tate Williams reports for Inside Philanthropy. "Launched in 2018 with founding donors Wallace Global Fund and Franciscan Sisters of Mary, the new fund is backing work on economic justice, the environment and health. It also aims to find some common ground around these issues, and as a result, forge connections across cultural and political divides." It's not exactly a parachute philanthropy model, with urban outsiders trying to "fix" rural America; the steering committee is made of grassroots leaders from the communities Heartland supports.

The fund, one of several similar efforts, dispensed $500,000 in grants last year and has a $1.5 million grant-making budget this year, though that may increase, Williams reports. "The fund is taking on tough important challenges, including how to best support those with roots in the region and be responsive to needs on the ground. Those involved are also trying to challenge some of the false dichotomies between supporting rural versus urban communities, or white working class versus communities of color, and instead build power across these perceived divides."

Stereotypes about rural people are one reason fewer philanthropists get involved in rural areas. In a recent report about the political context of rural America for the Wallace Global Fund, Minnesota-based consultant Ben Goldfarb "calls out 'reductionist caricatures of rural people as uneducated, backward and racist,' misconceptions that feed into disinvestment and neglect from philanthropy, Williams reports. "Of course, many of the country’s largest foundations and donors are based in major metropolitan areas, which also contributes to the fact that just some 6 to 7 percent of philanthropy benefits rural areas."

Though rural America is more conservative, the landscape as a whole is far more complex than the stereotypes suggest, Goldfarb said in the report, pointing out that rural America is only 14 percent less diverse than the national average. "And there’s potential to connect across partisan and cultural divides when issues are framed in the right way. Much of the American progressive identity, the report reminds us, has roots in the farming and labor history in these areas," Williams reports.

Eight reasons why most livestock industries are booming

While the dairy industry is struggling, overall, livestock industries are booming. "Across the country, meat production is at an all-time high. The U.S. will be at record production for beef and pork in 2019, says Joe Schuele with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The U.S. has set new records for pork production every year since 2015. Beef production has been increasing since 2016. Poultry production will also be at record levels this year," executive editor Betsy Freese reports for Successful Farming.

There are some region-specific reasons for the boom, but Freese outlines eight general reasons:

1. Feed costs are lower. Lower corn and soybean prices mean lower feed costs, a trend expected to continue through 2019.

2. Struggling cash grain farmers are increasingly raising livestock as a way to diversify income.

3. Livestock production increases land values. That's because livestock producers compete for land, which helps boost local land prices. 

4. Despite tariffs in China and Mexico, American beef exports were still selling at a record pace as of late 2018. Pork exports were 8% down though, mostly because of the tariffs.

5. Soil health has become increasingly important to farmers, and animal manure is a proven way to put nutrients back into soil.

6. Major retailers like Costco and Walmart are investing millions in poultry and dairy operations that control the entire process from production to distribution. The Costco operation in Nebraska is expected to generate an annual economic impact of about $1.2 billion, though ag columnist Alan Guebert warns that such ventures could hurt farmers in the long run.

7. New pork plants in Michigan and Iowa demand an increased supply of hogs.

8. Livestock helps farmers diversify and create value for their heirs who go into farming.

2017 Ag Census shows big shift in vegetable cultivation

What's hot and what's not in vegetables. (Washington
Post chart; click on the image to enlarge it.)
The recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture reveals a shift in which vegetables American farmers are growing. In many cases, "Vegetables that may once have been dismissed as fads or trends are reshaping America’s agricultural landscape," Laura Reiley and Andrew Van Dam report for The Washington Post. "Farmers are abandoning one-time basics such as sweet corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. In their place, they’re planting sweet potatoes and leafy greens such as spinach, kale and romaine lettuce."

The increasing prevalence of lower-carbohydrate and low glycemic-load diets, such as South Beach, Atkins, Paleo and others, has made sweet potatoes far more popular in the past five years and decreased the popularity of high-carbohydrate crops like potatoes. "Cultivation of sweet potatoes increased by 47,257 acres or 37.6 percent from 2012 to 2017, by far the biggest jump of any vegetable crop," Reiley and Van Dam report. "It’s more than the next two fastest-growing crops, romaine lettuce (up 22,780 acres) and spinach (up 23,592 acres), combined."

Sweet corn, on the other hand, lost 75,972 acres in the past five years -- a 13.3 percent decrease for the nation's second most-planted vegetable. Hank Scott, whose company Long and Scott produces Zellwood sweet corn in Mount Dora, Fla., told the Post that farmers are reconsidering planting sweet corn because the cost of farming is increasing, and farmers are under a lot of pressure to ward off diseases and produce the perfect corn that many buyers demand.

Scott said "stores such as Walmart are putting family farms out of business not just by playing hardball on prices but also by demanding year-round contracts," Reiley and Van Dam report. "If a family farmer wants a contract with a big supplier but doesn’t produce corn all year long, they’re responsible for buying another producer’s corn to cover the grocery behemoth’s supply chain during their off season."

Green beans, peas and lima bean production fell most in places where local growers usually process them for canning and freezing. That's because American consumers increasingly prefer fresh vegetables instead of frozen and canned, which has led many processing plants to close. That has forced some farmers to reduce or stop growing some crops like lima beans that are too perishable to sell fresh on a wide scale, Reiley and Van Dam report. Black-eyed pea cultivation fell mostly because it's getting harder and hard to control the weeds and bugs that choke off the plants' growth.

Nature Conservancy buys 100,000 acres in Ky. and Tenn.; timbering, mining will continue; mineral estate is separate

Nature Conservancy map
The Nature Conservancy announced today that a timber company has sold it 100,000 acres of forest land in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee that will continue to be logged for timber -- and mined for coal, because only the surface of the property is changing hands, not the mineral estate.

Tyler Whetstone of the Knoxville News Sentinel asked Terry Cook, Tennessee director for the national nonprofit organization, about the likelihood of mining. He writes, "Cook downplayed this possibility and said if there was mining on the property, it would be on a “very small percentage” and said TNC would work with the company to restore the land." Reclamation of mined land is required by federal law, but the quality of reclamation varies with state regulation and landowner attitudes. The Nature Conservancy said it would try to minimize the impact of mining, Matt Mencarini reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.

David Phemister, Kentucky director of The Nature Conservancy, "would not comment on what percentage of the purchase price was financed by carbon offsets," through which industries mitigate their carbon pollution by financing projects that absorb carbon, WDRB-TV in Louisville reports. "He said the land is privately owned and the seller was a single client of Jackson, Miss.-based Molpus Woodlands Group."

The Nature Conservancy said the tract, called Ataya, would be one of its largest conservation and ecological restoration projects in Central Appalachia, and its research has shown the Cumberland Mountains to be "one of the nation’s most important corridors for animal migration as the region’s climate changes," Whetstone reports. Like the Great Smoky Mountains to the southeast, they "are especially crucial because the varying elevations and topography provide habitat diversity for birds and dozens of mammals. That all of that is preserved in mostly one large chunk of land is a plus, Cook said."

The group said it would work with local communities to support opportunities for outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism, among other things. “It’s not going to be set up as a preserve that keeps people out, but we’re going to work with our local partners and the communities,” Cook said. “The public will have access to it.” The property will link to three publicly owned preserves: Kentucky Ridge State Forest, the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee, and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in the two states and Virginia.

Southern states seek more federal funds to fight Asian carp

Wall Street Journal map, adapted from U.S. Geological Survey
Asian carp have been worrying Midwestern states and Great Lakes cities for years, but in the past few years they've been an increasing problem in the South. The number of Asian carp recorded in inland waters has more than doubled in the past five years, mostly driven by the invasive species' spread to the mid-South, Atlanta-based Cameron McWhirter reports for The Wall Street Journal.

The fish pose the same threat in the South as they have in the North: the voracious fish crowd out native species and hurt local ecosystems and fishing industries. Efforts to control the fish cost millions annually, and some states don't have the money for it. "The affected Southern states are pushing for $12 million in federal funding to control the spread of carp, a big increase from the $600,000 they secured this fiscal year," McWhirter reports. "Anglers spend about $2.9 billion annually in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, the American Sportfishing Association estimates."

State and federal officials in southern states employ several strategies to prevent Asian carp from getting into local waters (or remove them, if that fails). A pioneering public-private program in Kentucky pays anglers for carp and auctions the catches online, mostly to Chinese buyers. And scientists are trying to better understand carp reproduction to help them find ways to limit fish populations, McWhirter reports. 

Officials in several states "are seeking choke points such as dams, locks or narrows where they can build electric or sound barriers to scare away the fish because carp are sensitive to sound," McWhirter reports. "They also are subsidizing commercial-fishing ventures and sponsoring recreational tournaments focused solely on carp." It's difficult to catch carp though: since they eat plankton they must be caught with a net rather than a baited hook.