Friday, August 09, 2019

EPA won't require labels on glyphosate linking it to cancer

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it won't require labels on glyphosate-containing products that link the chemical to cancer. "The EPA's announcement is a win for Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer AG, which have found a haven in the agency but not in the courts," Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder reports for U.S. News & World Report.

"The move is directed at California. In 2017, the state declared the chemical, which is the main active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, a carcinogen. Roundup producer Monsanto challenged the ruling in federal court, and a judge has temporarily blocked the state from requiring the labels as the lawsuit continues," Smith-Schoenwalder reports.

The new guidance tells companies registered to sell glyphosate that California's labels "constitute a false and misleading statement" and that the EPA won't approve any labels containing the state's warning. The agency says the guidance is based on its own findings that show glyphosate is not harmful when properly used. "But the World Health Organization's cancer agency previously determined that glyphosate is likely to cause cancer, prompting California to list the chemical in Proposition 65, its right-to-know law that provides residents with warnings about cancer-causing chemicals," Smith-Schoenwalder reports.

In three major court cases, Roundup users who got cancer were awarded billions of dollars by juries. Bayer says it's appealing those verdicts, but there are more than 13,000 similar cases pending in the U.S., Smith-Schoenwalder reports.

Quick hits: 'Why I stay in Appalachia,' rural noir fiction increasingly popular, book explores rural political cynicism

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

In "Why I Stay in Appalachia," an LGBT+ young adult talks about why they moved back to their rural hometown of Gadsden, Alabama, after graduating from Harvard University. Read more here.

When people think of noir fiction, they frequently call up images of hard-boiled urban detectives. But the growing popularity of rural noir, exemplified by books and films such as "Winter's Bone," is bringing new life to the genre, Laura McHugh writes for Crime Reads. Read more here.

"U.S. senators from states with large rural populations are pushing a bipartisan bill to research maternal mortality rates in rural America and develop solutions to improve care for pregnant women who live far from hospitals," Emma Coleman reports for Route Fifty. Read more about the Rural MOMS Act here.

A new book, We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America, zeroes in on a declining coal town in central Pennsylvania and explores why exasperated locals, tired of politicians' promises, were increasingly cynical about either party's ability to help their community. Read more here.

Rural California teen feathering his nest with egg business

Ayden Gartenlaub, 16, feeds his hens. (The Californian photo by Alex Horvath)
Many 16 year-olds have an after-school job, but Ayden Gartenlaub's is a little different. The teen, who lives on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California, has been running his own small business selling eggs for the past two years and is starting to see some big returns with Ayden's Eggs.

"The soon-to-be high school junior started his business two years ago as a freshman with 12 chickens and a few small coops on his school farm. Now he has 350 hens and is selling an average of 75 to 90 dozen eggs every Saturday at the East Hills Farmers Market in northeast Bakersfield," Steven Mayer reports for

Ayden says the secret to his success is hard work, love for his chickens, and a better product. Grocery store eggs can be a month old before you buy them, but Ayden's are generally less than a week old. "I can definitely tell the difference. They're really good," customer Lori Clemmons told Mayer. Clemmons also said she likes supporting a young entrepreneur like Ayden who works so hard.

How hard does Ayden work? Every day, Ayden spends two hours a day feeding and watering his hens, gathering eggs and doing other related chores, and on Friday he spends five or six hours washing and packaging eggs (with help from his family). "Saturday is farmers market day, when the young farmer transforms into the salesman, engaging with customers, telling the story of why these eggs are not only white and brown, but robin's egg blue, light green, copper-colored and occasionally, even a blush-rose shade," Mayer reports.

When he's not chicken-wrangling, the young entrepreneur is an A-student who plays sousaphone in the marching band. He was once a defensive lineman for the football team at Highland High School, but gave it up to focus on his business. Amber Carter, a Future Farmers of America advisor and ag teacher at Highland, said Ayden's project was inspirational to other students. "A lot of students don't think they have anything to offer in ag. Ayden's project shows them what can be done," Carter told Mayer.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Rural paper fills several pages in sample-copy edition with stories about the opioid epidemic and its cost

Continuation of Page 1 story shows child with a photo of his mother, who died from a fentanyl overdose.
Most rural newspapers shy away from reporting on the opioid epidemic, aside from its criminal-justice aspects, perhaps because they naturally avoid unpleasant news that isn't served up to them. Not the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Kentucky, which started a series about the issue in a big way last week, in a sample-copy edition sent to everyone in the county of 20,000.

The Voice filled its front page with three stories about drugs, introduced with a 72-point all-caps headline, "THE COST OF ADDICTION" and a blurb reading, "The cost of addiction runs high. It has affected every family and every aspect of our community," and inviting "anyone with a story to tell" to call Editor and Publisher Sharon Burton.

The front-page stories told of a 23-year-old mother's drug problems and her death from fentanyl; the failure of state social workers to prevent the death of a baby born with methamphetamine in its system; and the heavy pressure that drug cases are putting on local courts and jails. On the editorial page, Burton wrote, "We must come together as a community to battle this raging beast."

And that wasn't all. A Health and Medical section began with a story and photo illustration (a judge posed in his courtroom) explaining the new state law that allows involuntary treatment for someone suffering from alcohol or drug abuse. Below it were a story about a woman who forced her daughter to get treatment, and one about a statewide proposal to tax electronic cigarettes. On the back page was a story citing a database recently revealed by The Washington Post giving the number of pain pills per person shipped into the county from 2006 to 2012.

This isn't the first foray into the issue for the Voice, which is the smaller weekly in Adair County. In December it did a story about the local syringe exchange, which aims to prevent disease outbreaks among intravenous drug users and inadvertent injury from discarded needles, and found that most of the exchange's clients were from adjoining and more populous Taylor County, which doesn't have an exchange.

In text, pictures, audio and video, Post looks at 4 localities among many suing drug makers over opioids: 'We was addicted to their pills, but they was addicted to the money'

L-R: Lee, Wise and Russell counties; City
of Norton is within Wise (Wikipedia map)
"Towns and cities across America are fighting back against the drug industry, seeking billions of dollars in damages to treat addiction and rebuild their communities," through a lawsuit in federal court in Cleveland, Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post reports, in a deep, multimedia story from Southwest Virginia -- where Lee, Wise and Russell counties and the City of Norton are plaintiffs in the suit.

In photographs, audio, video and text, the story is told by a Post team and people who are in recovery, including some who relapse; a police officer who saw the epidemic coming but was largely ignored; pharmacists who refused to fill dodgy prescriptions; and the district director of the state health department. "People here are familiar with pain," Achenbach writes. "Coal miners tell stories of explosions they survived. Disability rates are high. This was a place where the purveyors of pain pills found a ready market."

Jason Boyd and daughter (Washington Post photo by Melina Mara)
The most compelling account comes from Jason Boyd, a recovering and relapsing father of four who makes a case that sounds like a good opening or closing argument in a trial: “We was addicted to their pills, but they was addicted to the money, because that’s what it is about. The definition of murder is when you sit and you plan about how killing somebody. Well that’s pretty much the definition of what they done. They sit back and say, ‘All right, this is addictive,’ but it’s same thing as just sitting there saying, ‘Well, we will murder a whole bunch people and make millions of dollars off of it.’ ”

Achenbach notes, "The drug companies issued broad defenses of their actions during the opioid epidemic. They have said previously that they were trying to sell legal painkillers to legitimate pain patients who had prescriptions. They have blamed the epidemic on over-prescribing by physicians and also on corrupt doctors and pharmacists who worked in 'pill mills' that handed out drugs with few questions asked. The companies also said they should not be held responsible for the actions of people who abused the drugs."

Those statements were made to The Post last month in response to its release of a Drug Enforcement Administration database that is central to the lawsuit, Achenbach writes. It "became public through legal action by The Washington Post and HD Media, owner of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia. Over seven years, the database shows, drug companies shipped a combined 74 million opioid pills to the city of Norton and the three surrounding counties — enough for 106 pills per resident every year." The city and Lee and Dickenson counties are also among the plaintiffs in a similar lawsuit in Virginia, The Coalfield Progress reports.

The Post reported that the database showed Norton, a town of 4,000, received more pain pills per person, 306, than any other place in America in 2006-12. That is misleading, City Manager Fred Ramey told the Progress, “since all demand is not local” and Norton “is a regional commercial hub and home to two hospitals, a VA clinic, and regional cancer facility along with a number of doctors that serve the medical needs of a multi-county area that includes a portion of Eastern Kentucky.”

Anti-OD drug not getting to enough at-risk and rural patients

CDC maps show rate of naloxone prescriptions (top) and ratio of naloxone prescriptions to high-dose opioid prescriptions
Use of the opioid-overdose rescue drug naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, has boomed in recent years. However, too few chronic-pain patients at high risk of overdose are receiving it, especially in rural America, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline.

In 2017, 47,600 Americans died from an opioid overdose. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more lives could be saved if health-care providers offered naloxone to all patients at risk of overdose. "Naloxone dispensing from retail pharmacies increased from 2012 to 2018, with substantial increases in recent years. Despite increases, in 2018, only one naloxone prescription was dispensed for every 69 high-dose opioid prescriptions. The lowest rates of naloxone dispensing were observed in the most rural counties."

According to the report, overall naloxone dispensing was 25 times greater in the highest-dispensing counties than in the lowest-dispensing counties. The highest rate of naloxone prescriptions was in the South and the lowest rate was in the Midwest, Vestal reports. The number of naloxone prescriptions rose from 270,000 in 2017 to 556,000 in 2018, but it would take 9 million prescriptions to provide one to every person who has a high-dose opioid prescription, the report found.

"The CDC’s 2016 guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain recommended doctors prescribe naloxone for all patients taking more than the equivalent of 50 mg of morphine a day. Since then, a handful of states have required doctors to co-prescribe naloxone and warn patients about the risk of high doses of opioids," Vestal notes. "In addition, nearly all states have enacted so-called good Samaritan laws, allowing private citizens to administer the overdose-reversal medication without legal liability. And most states in the past five years have called on pharmacies to provide the easy-to-administer medication to anyone who wants it without a prescription, according to the Network for Public Health Law."

Minn. farmers unload frustration on trade war, tell Perdue it will have long-term effect on soybean sales to China

Secretary Sonny Perdue at Minnesota FarmFest
(DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Chris Clayton)
Farmers vented their frustrations with the tariff war when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue held a listening session at the Minnesota Farmfest in Redwood Falls yesterday. It was a particularly timely topic, since China halted all American ag purchases a few days ago in response to President Trump's announcement of 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods.

"Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, drew applause as he leveled criticism of the administration’s trade policy" during the forum, Mike Dorning and Erik Wasson report for Bloomberg News. "Wertish criticized Trump’s 'go-it-alone approach' and the trade dispute’s 'devastating damage not only to rural communities.' He expressed fears Trump’s $28 billion in trade aid will undermine public support for federal farm subsidies, saying the assistance is already being pilloried 'as a welfare program, as bailouts.'"

Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, criticized some of Trump's tweets that farmers are doing "great" again, Bloomberg News reports. "We are not starting to do great again . . . We are starting to go down very quickly," Thalman said. Trump hinted at more aid in a tweet on Tuesday, but Perdue said no further trade aid is being planned. Many applauded when Democratic state Rep. Angie Craig said trade aid was not a substitute for a trade strategy.

Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer, "One farmer got a loud round of applause by telling the secretary USDA shouldn't put out speculative planting numbers that kill a market rally." Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's "Morning Agriculture" newsletter, "Perdue defended the survey-based data from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and said the schedule for releasing publications is determined years in advance."

Perdue said America's farmers would regain their market share in China, but a resolution must be based on "reciprocal trade" and that it's China's responsibility to make some concessions, Bloomberg News reports. However, Joel Schreurs, a Minnesota farmer and a director of the American Soybean Association, told Perdue he doesn't think the hardline approach is working with China, and soybean farmers are losing a long-term relationship with China in the meantime, Clayton reports. "I just don't see that market coming back quickly," Schreurs said. "It's not going to be a six-month thing."

UPDATE, Aug. 15: Mary Papenfuss reports for Huffington Post, "Perdue hit back at the complaints with his joke: 'What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.' As he pounded the table in mirth, some of the thousands of farmers at the event laughed nervously — which was followed by boos." Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish told her, “It was definitely not an appropriate thing to say,” “It was very insensitive. It took everyone by surprise. He doesn’t understand what farmers are dealing with, and he’s the head of the Department of Agriculture. He’s supposed to be working for farmers.”

Study: Rural dentists show awareness of opioid epidemic in their prescribing, and are in good positions to fight it

While rural and non-rural dentists prescribe about the same number of pain pills, rural dentists do so more often in combination with ibuprofen or acetaminophen and at lower dosage rates. So says a new study, which also found that rural dentists are more likely to have suspected their patients of drug abuse -- and not prescribed opioids to them as a result of that suspicion.

AARP photo illustration
The study, published in The Journal of Rural Health, pointed out that rural dentists are in a great position to help combat the opioid crisis, largely because rural communities have been hit so hard by the opioid epidemic and because dentists prescribe about 12 percent of annual opioid prescriptions.

"Recognizing and engaging rural dentists as leaders in addressing opioid misuse will be an important step toward reducing the fatal impacts of this epidemic among rural communities," the researchers write. "Rural dentists encountering this epidemic can implement screening for opioid misuse and abuse, as well as provide a referral for treatment."

The researchers delivered an online survey to dentists in the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network to measure both rural and non-rural dentists' pain management practices, their perceptions of the scope of the problem and the perceived adequacy of their training around preventing the misuse and abuse of opioids.

The survey excluded those who did not provide an email address, and those who practiced exclusively in orthodontics, oral pathology or pediatric dentistry, because those types of practices rarely prescribe opioids. Of the 822 dentists who completed the survey, 91 were in a rural practice and 731 were not; 11.1% of them were in an area that is short of health professionals. Rural practice was defined as those with a ZIP code with more than 50% of its population living in a non-metropolitan county or in a rural census tract. (Many metro counties have rural census tracts.)

"Rural dentists were significantly more likely to prescribe opioids in combination with a recommendation to use ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain management, and were significantly less likely to prescribe six to seven days' supply of opioids," the researchers report. They also found that only one-third of the dentists said their training to prevent misuse or abuse of opioids was "sufficient and up to date." Rural dentists appeared slightly less likely to say that. The rest said their training was either sufficient, but out of date; insufficient; or that they had received no such training.

The researchers said the American Dental Association's new policy was a great support for dentists because it sets limitations for opioid dosage and duration for acute pain, elevates the significance of mandatory continuing education for prescribing opioids and other controlled substances, and provides a recommendation for dentists to use state prescription-drug monitoring programs.

The journal article concludes, "Dentists should employ recommended risk-mitigation strategies broadly, as a substantial segment of dental patients report at least some non-medical use of their pain medications, and recent substance abuse—including problematic alcohol use or illicit drug use—has been reported by approximately one in five dental patients."

The article acknowledged several limitations to the study: Self-reported data is retrospective in nature, making it subject to potential bias; no objective prescribing data was collected; a patients may live in a different ZIP code (perhaps an urban one) than the dentist; and the study did not differentiate between the complexity of procedures as potential reasons for the dentists' prescribing practices.

The corresponding author of the study report is Dr. Jenna McCauley of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina.

6 states sue, seeking ban on pesticide that hurts kids' brains

Six states have sued the Environmental Protection Agency for refusing to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to pediatric brain damage. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, and Washington argued that the pesticide should be banned for use on crops because of the evidence that it harms children's brains.

"EPA’s decision to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos came last month, the result of a court-ordered deadline to regulate the pesticide prompted by a lawsuit previously filed by Earthjustice," Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. "EPA would not comment on the lawsuit but said those challenging the use of chlorpyrifos did not have enough data to demonstrate the product is not safe. The EPA said it would continue to review the safety of chlorpyrifos through 2022."

EPA banned chlorpyrifos for household use in 2001 because of the same concerns about neurological damage, Beitsch reports. The Obama-era EPA proposed a total ban, but President Trump's first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, reversed the decision

Gillibrand is latest candidate to release a rural policy plan as the Iowa State Fair opens, putting focus on rural vote

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
The Democratic contest for rural votes is heating up, as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, like presidential-nomination rivals Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, released a plan for revitalizing rural America yesterday. The timing is no coincidence; the Iowa State Fair starts today, and an appearance is a must for any serious presidential candidate.

"The focus on rural Iowa is a mainstay of presidential politics, sending candidates on a sometimes-awkward pilgrimage to the far corners of the state that holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses," Alexandra Jaffe and Elana Schor report for The Associated Press. "But Democrats say the chase for the heartland is especially urgent this year as the party tries to win back some voters who supported Trump in 2016. A strong showing in Iowa, they say, could prove a candidate's ability to make inroads in other rural communities across the country." Iowa voted for Trump, but twice for Barack Obama and once for George W. Bush.

Gillibrand's plan "would create a $50 billion fund at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the agency to distribute as block grants," Linh Ta reports for the Des Moines Register. Rural communities and tribal nations could get the flexible grants to address issues like rebuilding water lines, housing, building roads, railroads, disaster recover, entrepreneurship and job training."

Gillibrand says she would put $60 billion into rural-broadband buildout, $750 million for a rural technology skills program, $250 million for arts, food and cultural amenities to make rural areas more attractive to young people, and increase funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Program.

She would also increase funding for telehealth services and "give farmers support from the USDA to develop new practices to put carbon back into the ground while working to limit nutrient loss. It would also offer new insurance protections and energy infrastructure for farms," Ta reports.

Some other candidates, like Bernie Sanders, John Hickenlooper and John Delaney have released comprehensive rural plans, while others have released plans for specific rural issues. "Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), is releasing draft legislation today that would encourage sustainable agriculture and other “nature-based” strategies for combating climate change," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture. "The bill would include billions of dollars to encourage climate-friendly farm practices and support renewable energy projects for farmers and rural businesses."

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

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Reporters for consortium of local papers in Oregon explore the state's growing rural-urban divide

In June, Republican lawmakers fled the Oregon legislature and killed a climate-change bill. "The debate over the policy seemed to deepen perceptions that there are two Oregons – major metropolitan areas with dominating populations and rural areas, ranging from fisheries-based coastal towns to harvest-dependent communities in the east," Claire Withycombe and Aubrey Wieber report for the Oregon Capital Bureau. "But the reality is more subtle, the differences less stark, based on interviews with state leaders, researchers and a review of state data."

The Oregon Capital Bureau a consortium of several local and regional newspapers that aims to improve state government coverage. Les Zaitz, the award-winning editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise and former reporter for The Oregonian, leads the group.

Ky. Educational TV map via PBS Learning Media; click on it to enlarge
About 81 percent of Oregon's population lives in urban areas; that's close to the nationwide rural-urban ratio, but it reflects an urban boom in Oregon; 26 percent of its population was rural in 1980, Withycombe and Wieber report. And though the state doesn't track how much money is made and spent in urban vs. rural areas, it's clear that the urban hubs mostly fund statewide initiatives that benefit rural areas, like state highways and public education.

"The rural-urban divide shapes policies and debates in Salem. Urban lawmakers are astutely aware of the optics of praising rural communities and supporting bills that stimulate rural economies," Withycombe and Wieber report. "Rural lawmakers, conversely, have found railing about urban and progressive lawmakers and policies is often cheered back home."

Many rural residents think urban legislators are forcing liberal policies on them instead of listening to what their communities need; they fear the proposed-cap-and-trade legislation aimed at climate change will hurt the declining timber industry. "Urban lawmakers say that argument is a red herring: Industry is using such policies as a scapegoat as they automate their workplaces and ship jobs overseas, where labor is cheaper," Withycombe and Wieber report.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, told the reporters that a disproportionate share of the state's housing funding goes to rural areas, and she doesn't understand why Republican legislators wouldn't support her proposal to spend money from a tax rebate on affordable rural housing and wildfire prevention.

Steve Uffelman, the mayor of Prineville, a Central Oregon town of about 10,000, said affordable housing policies pushed by urban lawmakers don't help rural areas. One bill would have allowed more multifamily housing, which could help in a city, but in rural areas, it would be more helpful to rezone some land for high-dollar single-family homes, he said.

"It’s just that we don’t like somebody from outside telling us what we need to do, because they think they know better," Utffelman said. "And that’s just a slap in the face. And it’s an insult."

It's important to note that rural areas of the state aren't monolithic, either politically or socially, and that reactions to state legislation are mixed in rural areas. "There are a lot of Democrats in rural Oregon, and there are plenty of Republicans in urban areas. And partisanship is a much, much better predictor on almost every policy issue than geography," John Horvick, director of client relations and political research at DHM Research in Portland, told Withycombe and Wieber.

Trump expected to sign increase in limit for Chapter 12 farming bankruptcies to $10 million, up from $3.2 million

Last week the House and Senate passed a bill that aims to make it easier for family farmers with heavy debt loads to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy; President Trump is expected to sign it.

The Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019, which had a slew of bipartisan co-sponsors in both chambers, expands bankruptcy access by increasing the debt limit from $3.2 million to $10 million. That change reflects an increase in land values since Chapter 12 was created in 1986. Farm bankruptcies are on the rise; the American Farm Bureau Federation says there have been 535 Chapter 12 filings since June 2018. "That's an increase of 13 percent; about half occurred in the Midwest," WHO-TV reports.

Chapter 12 enables farmers to deal with debt while still staying in business, much like Chapter 11 for other businesses; it also applies to fishers, but the bill applies just to farmers. Expanded access to it will help farmers dealing with increasing financial stress in recent years. "Net farm income has dropped by nearly half in the past five years, from $123 billion to $63 billion," Annie Gowen reports for The Washington Post in a recent story that illuminates that struggles of several family farmers.

Free webinar Thursday on local collaboration to assess health needs, meet goals and help rural health organizations

In a free webinar at 1 p.m. ET Thursday, viewers will "hear how rural hospitals, community health centers, local public health departments and other rural stakeholders can work together to assess and address their rural communities' health needs," says the Rural Health Information Hub, the producer. "Two innovative rural health organizations will be highlighted that have developed strategies to meet population health goals, address social determinants of health, and improve health outcomes. Solutions to support rural health organizations' financial viability, and lessons learned, will also be shared."

The speakers will be Christie Obenauer, Board Chair of Sakakawea Medical Center in Hazen, N.D., and Toniann Richard, CEO of the Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri. While the webinar is free, high-speed internet is required to participate. Connection details will be emailed upon registration. A recording will be available on the RHI Hub afterward. If you have questions or problems with the registration process, email

Klobuchar and Warren release rural policy plans; Mass. senator calls for breaking up biggest agribusinesses

Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar now have rural policy plans.

Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar's, which she is pitching to voters on a tour of Iowa this week, aims to preserve emergency and outpatient services at rural hospitals by creating a new Rural Emergency Hospital classification. She would also review all tariffs and create a national rural export strategy, expand rural child-care assistance, promote renewable energy and biodiesel programs, Ali Vitali and Amanda Golden report for NBC News.

The Minnesota senator wants to expand support systems for family-owned farms, including federal crop-insurance programs, and increase the Farm Service Agency's maximum loan amount. "She’ll also increase the size of the FSA’s loan portfolio to make sure more farmers can access it, and offer a new tax credit to farmers that help beginning farmers get in business – be it by selling land or equipment to them," Vitali and Golden report.

The plan also includes a hefty broadband expansion plan, as well as investment in other infrastructure like bridges, highways, airports, and railroads. It aims to expand housing, health care and transportation access for rural veterans and seniors. Klobuchar also vows to fight discrimination in communities of color and partner with rural Native American tribes. "Klobuchar’s campaign did not release an estimate" of the plan's cost, Vitali and Golden report.

Elizabeth Warren
Warren's plan includes an unusual plank: breaking up the biggest agribusinesses to give family farmers a better shot. In a Medium post, she mentions the problems with contract chicken farming as an example. "The senator, who has criticized corporations throughout her presidential campaign, said her proposal would reverse anti-competitive mergers in agribusiness, as well as moving away from farm subsidies, toward guaranteeing farmers prices at their cost of production," Julia Manchester reports for The Hill.

Warren, of Massachusetts, also vows to fight to give farmers the ability to repair their own farming equipment with a national "right to repair" law. "Warren also addresses the issue of climate change in her proposal, pledging to lead an effort to decarbonize the agriculture sector in order to reach the goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2030," Manchester reports.

The plan also looks to "improve education, internet service, affordable housing, the opioid crisis and corporate responsibility in rural communities across the country," Manchester writes. It has $85 billion for rural broadband buildout.

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

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

More gun control remains unlikely soon; Republicans are more dependent on rural voters who once backed Dems

The renewed debate about guns is driving the political parties to their rural and urban corners.

The Democratic presidential candidates all favor more gun control in the wake of mass shootings, bt "The once-in-a-generation realignment that’s underway makes it less tenable for Republicans to support significant gun control, as the GOP has become more dependent on rural voters who once backed Democrats," James Hohmann of The Washington Post writes in "The Daily 202."

His object example is the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly, which ended a special session on gun control "after 90 minutes without even considering a single bill" proposed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who called the session in response to the May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach, he writes. Republican leaders, "after initially suggesting that they might be open to doing something, decided to refer all the bills to a bipartisan commission for study and then reconvene after the November off-year elections, in which all 140 legislative seats are on the ballot. This has made gun control a top issue in these local campaigns."

Virginia has become a mainly suburban state, and “Republicans are headed for extinction in the suburbs if they don’t distance themselves” from the National Rifle Association, oil-and-gas executive Dan Eberhart, a big Republican donor, told Bloomberg News. “The GOP needs to make several moves such as universal background checks, eliminating loopholes and banning military-style assault weapons to neutralize the issue. Otherwise, Republicans will lose suburban voters just like they did in the midterms on health care.”

Hohmann notes, "Groups that push more restrictive gun laws have become bigger counterweights to the NRA in recent years, thanks to infusions of cash from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the gun lobby’s internal struggles and increasingly sophisticated tactics. This has liberated some Democrats in areas where the issue is still marginal to stake out more liberal positions. But the NRA maintains structural advantages in the Senate – where rural votes have disproportionate influence."

China halts all U.S. ag purchases in latest trade war salvo

China is suspending all purchases of American agricultural products in response to President Trump's announcement of 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods.

Beijing officials said the proposed tariffs are a "serious violation" of the truce reached in June between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Trump said that China never fulfilled the promises they made then to buy more ag products, leading him to announce the new tariffs, Kate Rooney reports for CNBC.

Trump said last week the new round of tariffs would take effect Sept. 1 unless negotiators make progress before then, Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's "Morning Agriculture."

Progress may be slow coming. COFCO International, China's largest commodity trader, announced plans Monday to invest more heavily in Brazilian soybeans. "Specially, COFCO will buy up 25% more soybeans from Brazil over the next five years while also financing the expansion of more than 60 million acres of soybean production in Brazil," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. And Xi is dealing with internal pressure to look strong, so he may be less likely to cave on trade war demands from the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reports.

"The worsening trade tension could exacerbate what’s already a down year for ag exporters. USDA released fresh ag-trade data on Monday, and the numbers continue to look bleak, especially for soybean farmers," McCrimmon reports. "Exports of the crop to China totaled just 8.7 million metric tons from October through June, a huge decrease from 25 million metric tons over the same period in fiscal 2018. That represents a difference of $6.5 billion in sales. Overall, ag exports through June totaled $103 billion, compared with nearly $111 billion at the same point last year."

Rural Iowa editorial nails why local journalism matters

A twice-weekly small daily newspaper in rural Iowa makes a compelling case for the importance of strong watchdog journalism at the local level. 

Doug Burns
The staff of the Carroll Times Herald got "some ugly and highly personalized pushback" on its coverage of a former local school superintendent who sent a sexually suggestive email to a teacher and then collected a huge salary for months while on leave. Some of that pushback borders on "calls for violence on our reporters," says the editorial by co-owner Doug Burns.

"We are more than willing to print letters to the editor, or otherwise absorb comments challenging our coverage. But the taxpaying public should be concerned with increasingly aggressive online efforts to intimidate or chill our coverage of the use of taxpayer dollars."

Carroll and Carroll County (Wikipedia map)
The paper, family-owned for 90 years and until recently a daily, has a "three-generation-deep commitment to education in Carroll," the editorial says, making it "especially outrageous" that many commenters who want its watchdog reporting silenced don't even live in the town of 10,000.

The editorial objects, too, to the common narrative that community newspapers thrive on controversy and that they make their money from such stories. The opposite is true in small towns, it says:
Covering crime and courts with a trained eye, or writing about local government without lapdog obedience, requires more skills than retyping press releases, attending ball games or parroting back what local businesses want to see written about them. We have to dedicate more time and money and resources to covering the hard news, and sometimes bear the brunt of backlash, of modern cancel culture with abandoned subscriptions and lost advertising, when people don’t like inconvenient truths, painful facts. 
An easier and more profitable model would be to stand down from the tough stories, look the other away at misdeeds, maybe just comfortably stay silent in complicity with the culprits who would no doubt advertise more with us if we granted them such breaks from shame and even jail. Yes, we could be a newspaper that feeds people San Diego-sized helpings of sunshine, and no one would ever be angry at us again — except maybe parents of 17-year-old girls involved with police officers or parents and taxpayers concerned about tens of thousands of dollars in school waste after a superintendent resignation. 
Most rural newspapers, based on financial challenges and cultural changes, have opted for the latter approach, the balloons-and-cupcakes-for-all model, becoming, in the process, mere church bulletins with news on who died and where to find a Friday fish fry, community newsletters with limited, if any, critical investigative reporting or hard news — and very, very little crime and courts coverage beyond simple tracing of police reports, what the officers give us, no questions please, ma’am. 
We think you deserve better.

Internal watchdog says USDA may have broken law by moving two research units to K.C.; agency disagrees

The U.S. Department of Agriculture might have violated federal law by moving two key research agencies from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City without getting congressional approval, according to a report issued Monday by USDA's internal watchdog. "But with lawmakers out of town for the long August recess and the relocation already underway, it’s unclear if the findings will have much impact," Ryan McCrimmon reports for Politico's Morning Agriculture.

The USDA's inspector general found that officials have legal authority to relocate the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, but maybe not the budget to carry it out. "For example, investigators said USDA failed to meet a 60-day deadline to report to Congress how the department intended to use $6 million provided for NIFA relocation expenses in a fiscal 2018 spending package," McCrimmon reports. "USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden said in a July memo that the appropriations provisions requiring Congress to sign off on the move were unconstitutional, so the department did follow the law."

Though the report could provide ammo for opponents of the controversial move, it may be too late too affect much. A little over half the employees are scheduled to be relocated by Sept. 1, and the rest will be there by Sept. 30. Congress doesn't reconvene until Sept. 9, McCrimmon reports.

"The report also doesn’t answer some of the biggest questions about the motivations behind the move . . . including whether officials were retaliating against the agencies for their scientific reports that are sometimes unflattering to Trump administration policies," McCrimmon reports. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said the move will save money and will help attract and retain employees, but ag economists say the move will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and loss of many employees.

Federal probe of pork-salmonella outbreak highlights tensions between farmers and government investigators

The surge in drug-resistant infections is a global health threat, and one of the biggest causes is farmers who give their animals antibiotics to keep them healthy before slaughter. "Overuse of the drugs has allowed germs to develop defenses to survive," Matt Richtel reports for The New York Times. "Drug-resistant infections in animals are spreading to people, jeopardizing the effectiveness of drugs that have provided quick cures for a vast range of ailments and helped lengthen human lives over much of the past century."

However, powerful farm interests have stymied some public-health officials' investigations into the issue. That's what happened after nearly 200 people got sick with pork salmonella in 2015. The antibiotic-resistant pork variant is the fastest-growing salmonella strain in the U.S., but "an exhaustive detective hunt by public-health authorities . . . was crippled by weak, loophole-ridden laws and regulations — and ultimately blocked by farm owners who would not let investigators onto their property and by their politically powerful allies in the pork industry," Richtel reports.

The pork industry routinely refused to give investigators information on antibiotic use, according to Parthapratim Basu, a former chief veterinarian of the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service. "When it comes to power, no one dares to stand up to the pork industry," Basu told Richtel, "not even the U.S. government."

The Times story reconstructs the pork-salmonella outbreak and its aftermath with interviews of victims, investigators, industry executives and others involved, and information from government documents, medical records and emails of scientists and public-health officials, Richtel reports.

At its heart, resistance from the pork industry and hog farmers stems from their worries about being unfairly blamed for the salmonella outbreak. In reality, they argued, salmonella is endemic in livestock, and the science is too complicated to blame hog farmers, Richtel reports: "The tension mirrors a broader distrust in agriculture and other business about the intention of federal regulators and other government overseers."

GateHouse, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, announce agriculture data journalism fellowship

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and GateHouse Media are teaming up to create an agriculture data journalism fellowship.

From the website: "The agricultural data reporter will be embedded in the newsroom of the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and will focus on in-depth agribusiness investigative reporting. This fellowship will provide resources needed for the Midwest Center to more aggressively report on agribusiness and its impact on rural communities. The fellowship will also provide GateHouse with priority access to this reporting and to the Midwest Center’s robust archives and databases — enhancing the coverage of GateHouse newsrooms across the country. This strategic partnership will further empower GateHouse newsrooms, particularly in the Midwest and West, by providing additional highly focused and unique resources and content, as the newsrooms continue to develop products and services that target rural audiences.

Click here for more information about the fellowship.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Medicare-Medicaid agency hikes payments to rural hospitals

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services said Friday that it will adjust its Medicare payment formula, starting in October, in a way that will boost payments to rural hospitals, which "have complained that this measure has unfairly disadvantaged some of them because wages are lower in their communities," Dan Diamond reports for the Politico Pulse newsletter.

"The index is based on how much a hospital pays its staff, so hospitals in areas with high living costs get higher reimbursements than areas that have low cost of living -- for the same services," Kentucky Health News reported. "A labor market's wage index is the ratio of its average hourly wage to the national average hourly wage, according to CMS."

The proposed rule will reduce the disparity in reimbursements by increasing the wage index for hospitals in the bottom fourth of payments and reducing the index of those in the top fourth, creating a budget-neutral shift of funds, a CMS news release in April said.

"After the rule's release, the American Hospital Association said it supports improving the wage index values for rural hospitals, but that CMS shouldn't have done so in a budget-neutral manner," Diamond writes. "The National Rural Health Association — which last week pointed to a new investigation on rural hospitals' financial difficulties — had previously praised CMS' proposed version of the rule."

Gannett and GateHouse Media announce merger

Gannett daily newspapers in blue, GateHouse in black. (Map by Ren LaForme, The Poynter Institute, from Google Maps)
UPDATE: The deal was confirmed this afternoon. "Gannett shareholders will receive consideration of $12.06 a share in cash in stock, based on New Media [Investment Group]'s Friday closing price, with a promise of $6.25 in cash and 0.5427 of a New Media share for each Gannett share," MarketWatch reports. "Gannett investors will hold about 49.5% of the company after the transaction and New Media investors will own the rest, according to the announcement.

America's two largest newspaper chains, GateHouse Media and Gannett Co., could confirm their merger as early as today, according to multiple confidential industry sources.

The new company, which will reportedly take the Gannett name and D.C.-area headquarters, would own and operate 265 dailies and thousands of weeklies—more than one in every six newspapers in the United States. Print circulation would hit 8.7 million, making McClatchy No. 2 at 1.7 million. Digital audiences would follow a similar pattern, media business analyst Ken Doctor writes in a "Newsonomics" piece for the Nieman Lab at Harvard University. He speculates that the deal, which GateHouse is driving, could generate $200 million to $300 million in annual cost savings.

The deal will require federal approval because of antitrust concerns. Though the Department of Justice is unlikely to nix the merger, it may introduce some hoops to jump through, Doctor writes: "Tronc/Tribune found itself stymied by DOJ’s antitrust division in two deals — one for the Orange County Register, the other for the Chicago Sun-Times — a couple of years ago. Those two cases focused on claimed monopolistic limitation in regard to advertisers and/or subscribers in a single market. But GateHouse and Gannett’s holdings, as numerous as they are, may not be considered as competing head-to-head in any single market. The big question is how DOJ will look at the substantial regional clustering of properties this deal would bring."

Doctor says it's worth wondering whether the Justice Department's anti-trust division might consider questioning national market domination, since this merger will create a truly nationwide newspaper company, and what comes next on the consolidation front.

What dominoes will fall next? (Nieman Lab illustration)
"This merger produces a new cascade of questions," he writes. "The first: What are the next dominoes this transaction sets up in the consolidation of the newspaper industry this transaction? Eyes are focused squarely on McClatchy and Tribune, though both Lee Enterprises and MNG Enterprises— the latest name for the collection of papers owned by Alden Global Capital — are also drawing attention. Back in January, I dubbed the industry-wide urge to merge the 2019 Consolidation Games, and this deal certainly sits atop the medal podium just past mid-year."

Some rural churches struggle to find place amid change

In rural areas, churches often form the backbone of their communities, providing everything from spiritual nourishment and fellowship to charity and entertainment. But many rural churches are struggling these days, from population loss and other changes.

"As much as the churches serve as a cornerstone of their community, however, the world around them is changing. Family farms are less viable, people leave the rural town they grew up in for an urban center and attitudes toward religion have shifted, presenting churches with new challenges as they define themselves and their futures," The Associated Press reports.

Father Chinnappa Pothireddy, who has presided over several Catholic churches in rural Minnesota for the past two years, told AP that "It's not a decrease in faith. People have faith." But at the same time, he acknowledged, his churches were seeing fewer baptisms and more funerals, suggesting an increasingly aging congregation.

Pastor Greg Ferriss, who leads St. John's United Church of Christ in Fountain City, Wisconsin, says his church has stayed at about 200 members for the past decade, but thinks faith is playing a different role in society these days. "A lot of people used to go to church because everyone did," Ferriss said. "Most people sitting in my pews now, generally speaking, have some real faith questions that they want to play with, as opposed to, 'I can get on the PTA if I'm here.'"

National Farmers Market Week runs through Saturday

Yesterday kicked off the 20th annual National Farmers Market Week. The celebration, which runs through August 10, is the brainchild of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and promoted by nationwide organization The Farmers Market Coalition.

This year's campaign highlights the important role farmers play in the nation's food system, and in fostering entrepreneurship.

"National Farmers Market Week is a chance to celebrate all that farmers markets do for communities," Farmers Market Coalition’s Executive Director Ben Feldman said in a press release. "This year we are focused on the role that farmers markets play in creating opportunities for entrepreneurs, particularly to those who may lack the capitol or connections necessary to start a more traditional business. Farmers market success stories include farms and businesses run by young people, immigrants, and the previously incarcerated. With low barriers to entry and a customer base that prioritizes the product over the packaging, farmers markets are the most democratic form of commerce around."

The campaign provides more than 8,600 farmers markets nationwide with tools, guides and materials to use in event promotion and community education. Members of the news media may also access a toolkit, webinars and other free resources

Four conservative senators fail in bid to block federal funds for climate-change training for TV meteorologists

A federal inspector general has dismissed an effort by conservative lawmakers to make it harder for TV meteorologists to tell viewers about climate change.

TV meteorologists have emerged as frontline soldiers in the battle to persuade Americans that the Earth's climate is changing, frequently helped with graphics and other resources from nonprofit educational organization Climate Central. "Last year, four climate skeptics in the U.S. Senate demanded an investigation of the $4 million in federal funding provided for the Climate Central program, saying it 'is not science — it is propagandizing,'" James Rainey reports for the Los Angeles Times.

"After a nearly yearlong review, however, the National Science Foundation's inspector general has rejected the claim by the four Republicans — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and James M. Inhofe and James Lankford, both of Oklahoma. The inspector general’s review 'did not reveal any evidence that limitations on political activity ... were violated,' a memorandum summarizing the investigation said."

About 750 meteorologists across the nation have requested to be on Climate Central's distribution list this year. The program started with 197 meteorologists in 2014 and had increased to 644 by last year, Rainey reports. "Weather people are probably the closest thing that millions of Americans have in terms of daily contact with a person with science training," Climate Central chief executive Ben Strauss told Rainey. "It’s obvious that our weather has been behaving in strange and new ways, and we are simply helping weathercasters to help their audiences understand why."

Sunday, August 04, 2019

A town with moxie and a history of slavery dedicates a statue of a native, a pioneering black woman journalist

Members of Alice Allison Dunnigan's family pose with her statue in Russellville, Kentucky, after its dedication Friday.
By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
University of Kentucky
     In a little park amid the main intersection in downtown Russellville, Kentucky, stands a monument to the Confederate dead of Logan County, which borders Tennessee and before the Civil War had an economy based on slavery. No one pays much attention to the monument and its statue of a soldier anymore; business in the town of 7,000 no longer revolves around the square at Fourth and Main.
     Six blocks away, much more attention is being paid to a newer and more remarkable statue, of an African American woman who rose from poverty in Logan County to become the first black woman accredited as a journalist to the White House and Congress: Alice Allison Dunnigan, who died in 1983.
     The statue was dedicated Friday at its new home, the Struggles for Emancipation and Equality in Kentucky (SEEK) Museum, which occupies several lots and buildings in the heart of Russellville’s main African American neighborhood. A new walk running diagonally from the corner of Morgan and Sixth leads to the bronze of Dunnigan, looking up from a copy of The Washington Post and seeming ready to ask a sharp question.
Photo by Amanda Matthews, sculptor
     Sculptor Amanda Matthews “captured the true essence of Alice: her determination, her grace, her love for journalism and her love for people,” said Deborah Catchings-Smith, president of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority and vice president of operational risk management governance at Citibank.
     Dunnigan became Washington bureau chief of the American Negro Press in 1947 and was the first black journalist to travel with a president, on Harry S. Truman’s whistle-stop campaign in 1948.
Sonya Ross, who was the first black woman to cover the White House for The Associated Press, told the crowd at the dedication, “I have been able to have the amazing career I’ve had because Alice Dunnigan had the audacity to believe in all possibilities for herself, and by extension, all black people and all women, and in particular black women.”
     Another female African American journalist, Zirconia Alleyne, the editor of the Kentucky New Era at nearby Hopkinsville, emceed the event. “The more I learn about Ms. Alice Allison Dunnigan, the more inspired I am,” she said after Dunnigan’s oldest grandchild, Alicia Dunnigan, gave her biography.
     “She used her position as a journalist and political connections to expose injustice and discrimination and keep these uncomfortable issues before the public, the nation and the political establishment of the country,” Dunnigan said. “She was an amazing woman, not afraid to speak truth to power.”
     She said President Eisenhower ignored her “because of her tough questions on civil-rights issues” but President Kennedy called on her, and she asked whether his administration was going to do anything for some tenant farmers in Tennessee “who had been evicted from their homes because they had dared to vote in the last election and were forced to live in tents.”
     A few months later, the farmers got relief from the Justice Department, Dunnigan said. Later in 1961, her grandmother became education consultant of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and worked in government until she retired.
     Alicia Dunnigan remembered her grandmother as “strong, intelligent, hard-working, persistent – some would say stubborn” and someone who “cooked delicious Southern meals,” drank bloody Marys and smoked a pipe.
Sonya Ross delivers the keynote address. (Photos by Al Cross)
     Ross said, “In some folks’ mind, black girls like Alice do not have what it takes to be a bona fide American hero. Essentially, if they come from tucked-away places, if they start life with virtually nothing, if they live life with virtually nothing, and leave here wrapped in invisibility. The truth is, Alice Dunnigan was a bona fide American hero.”
     Beneath towering shade trees on a hot, sunny day, Ross said, “This is indeed just a beautiful moment. Do you all feel like, this palpable, amazing love? . . . I see why she had so much moxie. This town has moxie.”
     The gathering, which attracted people from hundreds of miles away, was a product of the SEEK Museum and Historic Russellville Inc., led by lawyer J. Gran Clark. He said it got the money for the statue from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, created by the founder of E.R. Carpenter Co., which has made polyurethane foam in the town for 50 years.
     Clark told the crowd, “There are a lot of people that care about this, that recognize that we have a shared history, racially, and it’s something that needs to be talked about, and learned, and digested.”
He said Southern writer John Edge compares the history of slavery to the game of Whack-a-Mole: “That’s what the South has always done about the history of slavery: It comes up, you knock it down. You never deal with it; you never address it. It never gets to stay on the surface.
Emcee Zirconia Alleyne and civic leader J. Gran Clark
     “So what we’re hoping to do is not just slavery, but our whole American history of race relations, to let it come up, to take that history that’s been hidden and buried, and share it, learn from it, and hopefully get to be better people and better communities.”
     For some, the event had present-day currency. “President Eisenhower put Alice on mute for two years,” Ross said, “and today President Trump tries to put our sister journalists on mute for doing their job of questioning his authority.”
     Catchings-Smith said that Dunnigan were here today she would say “Supporting the Fourth Estate does not reflect political bias, but rather is our right under the United States Constitution to have freedom of thought and expression. . . . She understood very well that without a free press, individual freedoms are at risk. She understood that ethical journalism and freedom of thought and expression are essential to our very own democracy.”