Friday, September 10, 2021

Institute for Nonprofit News consortium aims to cover all of rural America with Daily Yonder, Investigate Midwest hubs

Thoreson, left, and McGowan
The Institute for Nonprofit News "has launched its largest, most ambitious collaborative project yet: a consortium to uncover issues confronting rural America and highlight possible solutions. More than 50 member newsrooms will help identify and investigate inequities in health, work, and environmental issues in rural America, Sarah Scire reports for Harvard University's Nieman Lab. "The consortium, which will lift off in early 2022 and last at least two years, will pay special attention to underrepresented and marginalized communities, including Indigenous ones, in those areas."

Led by INN collaborations editor Bridget Thoreson and Midwest collaborations editor Sharon McGowan, the project taps The Daily Yonder and The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting to serve as reporting hubs, Scire reports. The project came about after INN surveyed its more than 350 member newsrooms about their needs and discovering that all wanted to reach more people with their reporting and most want to do that through more collaborations with other newsrooms.

"The project leverages the reporting power of established newsrooms with the sourcing and expertise in place to strengthen regional and national coverage as well as enhance local reports," Scire reports. INN figured it had muscle to launch such a project because of its size: INN affiliates employ more than 4,000 people, including 2,500 journalists, in every state but South Carolina.

A smaller-scale INN collaboration on water issues may serve as an example of what such partnerships can accomplish:  A one-person newsroom in California's San Joaquin Valley "had a story idea and INN partnered the reporter with another investigative unit, The Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, to report the story out, adding context and data along the way. Eventually, the piece was co-published in The New York Times," Scire reports. "That water collaborative, called Tapped Out: Power, justice, and water in the West, involved eight newsrooms. Another, Slammed: Rural health care and Covid-19, was a partnership between four. This new rural consortium is many times bigger, which is why INN tapped two leading rural newsrooms for help steering the editorial vision."

"What we are envisioning is that this really powerful network of member newsrooms — who are embedded in these communities and understand the issues like nobody else — can surface the common issues that people there are facing," Thoreson told Scire. "And then, together, bring that power and knowledge to bear on how they can find solutions to these issues unique to rural America."

Biden's vaccine mandates likely to have big rural impact

"President Biden announced sweeping new coronavirus vaccine mandates Thursday designed to affect tens of millions of Americans, ordering all businesses with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be immunized or face weekly testing," The Washington Post reports. "Biden also said that he would require most health-care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid funding to vaccinate their employees, which the White House believes will cover 50,000 locations." That includes outpatient facilities like dialysis clinics and home health agencies.

Biden will also require vaccinations—with no exceptions for regular testing among the unvaccinated—for employees of Head Start programs, Defense Department contractors, and federally operated Native American schools. "The White House estimates that the policy will affect about 80 million workers, or two-thirds of the country’s workforce. Businesses that ignore the mandate could face up to $14,000 per violation," the Post reports.

The new mandates will likely have a large impact in rural America, especially among large rural employers such as manufacturers, meatpackers, and Walmart, and hospitals. Rural health-care facilities are more likely to rely on Medicare and Medicaid for reimbursement, and many are already on the brink of bankruptcy. The new mandate will affect about one in three workers in Maine, the most rural state by population.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from many, including some Republican governors, The Associated Press reports. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has asked his attorney general to fight the mandate when it is put into effect, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is considering a special legislative session to challenge the mandate. Biden called such governors "cavalier" with the health of children and of their communities for resisting the mandates.

Covid roundup: Pediatric hospitalizations up; Christian broadcasting group's spokesman fired after pro-vax op-ed

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

The number of children hospitalized for Covid-19 has soared over the summer, especially in the least-vaccinated states, leaving some children's hospitals and intensive-care units stretched thin. Read more here and here.

Stillbirths have doubled during the pandemic in Mississippi, the least-vaccinated state. State officials have recorded 72 stillbirths (spontaneous miscarriages after 20 weeks of gestation) among unvaccinated pregnant people who were infected with the coronavirus. Eight infected pregnant people have also died over the past month. Pregnant and recently pregnant people have a higher risk of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus, studies show. Read more here.

The rate of new coronavirus infections among babies and children under age 4 recently surpassed the rate of new cases among seniors. Experts discuss what steps pregnant people and parents can take to be safe. Read more here.

The spokesperson for the National Religious Broadcasters (an association of more than 1,000 Christian new media professionals) was fired at the end of August after encouraging people to get their coronavirus vaccines in a USA Today op-ed and an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He was fired for violating the company's policy of staying neutral on vaccination, the CEO said on social media. Read more here.

Crowded jails and prisons drove millions of coronavirus infections, a new study has found. Read more here.

Coronavirus testing, hospital stays and emergency-room visits are about to get much more expensive for many Americans, as major insurers end the temporary waivers that reduced costs. Read more here.

A recent study found that unvaccinated people are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 than vaccinated people. Many vaccinated people worry about breakthrough infections, but the risk depends on factors such as overall health, where someone lives, and what other risks they take. Vaccinated people who do get infected tend to suffer only mild symptoms, if any. Read more here.

People who have survived a coronavirus infection and then gotten vaccinated have what's called "hybrid immunity," and studies show it's impressively potent—not just against the Delta variant, but possibly future variants as well. Read more here.

Experts say it's especially important to get a flu shot this year: with Covid cases surging across the country, it may be difficult to get treated if you get the flu and it takes a turn for the worse. Also, getting the flu can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to coronavirus infection—and getting both viruses one after the other could be dangerous. Read here for more answers to frequently asked questions.

Fully vaccinated people who get a breakthrough coronavirus infection are about half as likely as unvaccinated people to suffer from long Covid, a study has found. Read more here.

A respiratory therapist describes, in seven stages, how Covid-19 typically progresses among hospitalized patients. Read more here.

Experts recommend some tips for coping with pandemic anxiety this fall and winter. Read more here.

The share of American adults willing to get vaccinated rose 5 percentage points in the last month, according to a recent poll. Read more here.

People who were hospitalized for Covid-19 are twice as likely as usual to develop kidney disease afterward, researchers have found. Read more here.

Quick hits: Docuseries explores why people live in rural areas; Biden drops nominee to head ATF after pushback

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

A seven-part docuseries called "Rural by Choice" tells the story of why people choose to live in rural Minnesota. The first episode will premiere on Sept. 12, with the rest of the episodes premiering each week afterward. Click here for more details, including how to watch.

The White House has withdrawn David Chipman's nomination for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after sustained pushback over his record of gun-control advocacy. Read more here.

As cell-cultured meat gets ever closer to hitting store shelves, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service is seeking consumer comments on how such products should be labeled. Suggestions will be accepted until Nov. 2. Read more here.

"In summer 2020, a federal court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency showed too much deference to Bayer when it approved the company’s dicamba herbicide. This invalidated the approval. But, weeks later, Bayer began working the EPA again, according to newly obtained emails," Jonathan Hettinger reports for the Midwest Center for Investigation. Read more here.

Mountain Valley Pipeline developers have filed a subpoena seeking to find out the names and phone numbers of the people who run a Facebook group critical of the project. Read more here.

Local food is all the rage, but what makes food local? Read more here.

A recently published study found that single rural residents with heart disease face more hopelessness. Read more here.

A tech business owner and Columbia University professor discusses why rural students need to learn about artificial intelligence in school and what kind of education and training is needed so they can compete with their suburban and urban peers for high-paying tech jobs. Read more here.

Registration is open for a symposium on sustainable ranching practices. The event will be held Oct. 14-15 in Kingsville, Texas, and online. Read more here.

Scientists are trying to control emerald ash borers with tiny parasitic wasps. The strategy will hopefully go better than previous attempts to kill pests by using other natural predators (see: cane toads) because the wasps they're testing can't sting people and only go after the borers. Read more here.

The Rural Health Information Hub has updated its guide to critical-access hospitals to include two new FAQs on 340B eligibility and Rural Emergency Hospitals. There is also updated info on reimbursement, eligibility, funding, legislation, and more. Read more here.

New rural infections, up for 10th week in a row, are 50% higher than in metros and are nearing January's record high

New coronavirus infections, in ranges by county, Aug. 29-Sept. 4
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"After 10 weeks of growing numbers of Covid-19 infections, the weekly rate of new infections in rural counties is approaching the record rates set in January during the peak of the winter surge," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder.

Rural counties saw 209,259 new coronavirus infections between Aug. 29 to Sept. 4, "about 10 percent below the number of new infections reported during the height of the winter surge eight months ago. Meanwhile, the metropolitan weekly infection rate dropped slightly last week, the first decrease for metropolitan counties in 10 weeks," Murphy and Marema report. "Covid-related deaths increased in both rural and metropolitan counties. Rural counties reported 1,965 Covid-related deaths last week, an increase of more than 10% from two weeks ago. Metropolitan counties reported 6,024 deaths, an increase of 8%."

Click here for an interactive county-level map, regional analysis and charts from the Yonder.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Extreme weather renews calls to protect electrical grid

"With forecasters predicting that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of storms as warmer air gathers up more moisture that will be released as torrential downpours, finding a way to weatherproof utility systems has taken on new urgency," Dalvin Brown reports for The Washington Post. "Ida left more than 1 million power customers without electricity when it roared past New Orleans and through Mississippi last weekend, hurting or toppling more than 22,000 power poles and damaging 26,000 spans of wire, which transmit power between poles."

Burying power lines is the most common way of protecting electrical systems, but it's vulnerable to flooding, difficult to access for repairs, and often cost-prohibitive. A 2003 North Carolina study estimated the move would cost billions, increasing customers' utility bills by 125 percent. Pacific Gas & Electric, whose equipment has caused wildfires, just announced it will spend $20 billion over the next decade to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in wildfire-prone areas of California. 

If burying power lines is too costly, "many power companies are pioneering technology aimed at making their systems resilient in extreme weather, rather than immune," Brown reports. "The idea is it may not be possible to prevent a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds from toppling a 400-foot transmission tower as Ida did in Louisiana, but it may be possible to get the grid back up quickly after such a crippling weather event. As disasters linked to climate change become more common, energy companies have begun implementing these strategies and building extra-sturdy power lines that can withstand winds and flooding."

However, federal funding could help states and localities pay to bury power lines: "The bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in early August contained $65 billion for the power grid, with $10 billion to $12 billion specifically for building new transmission lines," Emily Pontecorvo reports for Grist. "The Biden administration also announced last month that it is making nearly $5 billion available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for projects that improve community resilience to extreme weather."

Pace of new rural vaccinations up for fourth week in a row

Vaccination rates as of Sept. 2 compared to the national average, adjusted to account for vaccinations not assigned to specific counties. Map by The Daily Yonder; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

"The pace of new vaccinations in rural America increased for the fourth consecutive week last week," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. During the week of Aug. 27 through Sept. 2, new vaccination rates in rural and metro counties were 9 percent higher than the week before.

The 318,000 rural residents who completed their vaccinations last week brought the total rural vaccination rate to 39%, compared to metro counties' 50.6% total vaccination rate.

Click here for more charts and analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive map.

Society of Environmental Journalists webinar Sept. 15 will discuss how climate change could affect food and farming

A recent United Nations report warned of increasingly extreme weather in the coming decades. On Wednesday, Sept. 15, the Society of Environmental Journalists will host a free webinar to discuss what that means for farmers and food; all journalists are welcome.

From the website: "Ahead of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, we’re bringing together policymakers, experts, and journalists covering food, farming, and climate to discuss the questions, data, and story ideas that will engage your editors and your audience. This webinar is the second in a series providing journalists with background, tools, and tips on covering the latest in [the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and scientific research findings."

The webinar begins at 1 p.m. ET and will last an hour. Click here for more information or to register.

Overall hunger slightly down in rural America in 2020, but up in 9 states, and more children went hungry

U.S. households with children by food security status of adults and children in 2020.
Agriculture Department chart; click the image to enlarge it.

Hunger in the U.S. decreased slightly from 2019 to 2020, according to a new report on household food security in the U.S. by the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service. However, more children went hungry, more people used food banks, and overall food insecurity last year was higher than the national average in nine states: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

Among rural households with income below 130% of the poverty line, 69.4% were food secure in 2020, compared to 66.3% in metro areas. In 2019, 64.8% of such homes were food secure, compared to 67.8% in metro areas.

The percentage of poor households with very low food insecurity fell as well: from 14.7% of rural households in 2019 to 12.9% in 2020. Among poor metropolitan households, the percentage fell from 13.9% to 13.1%. Parents usually bear the brunt of hunger in food insecure households, skipping or cutting back on meals. But "very food insecure households" are characterized by children also going hungry sometimes.

The percentage of rural individuals experiencing food insecurity also fell slightly: from 87.5% in 87.3%. Among metro residents, food insecurity fell from 89.4% to 88.4%.

But, the percentage of very food-insecure individuals rose slightly: in rural areas from 4.3% to 4.4% and in metro areas from 3.6% to 3.7%. That generally reflects children going hungry: In 2020, the USDA found, children 0.8% of households sometimes went hungry, up from 0.6% in 2019.

In 2020, 8.3% of rural households used food banks or emergency kitchens, up from 5.9% in 2019. Meanwhile, 6.4% of metro households used such services, up from 4.2%.

Remembering 9/11 with an editorial written the day after

This week, it seems that the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is being remembered by most newspapers, even weeklies that pay little attention to national affairs. 9/11 was an event that defied geography and made Americans rural and urban think a little more about what they had in common. Many of this week's 9/11 stories and editorials are interviews and reflections about that day, but most of them likely pale in comparison to writings done the day after, when feelings were raw and confused but retain the immediacy that makes us re-appreciate the significance of those events and their aftermath. Here is an editorial written on 9/12/01 and published on 9/13/01 by The Canadian Record of Canadian, Texas.

By Laurie Ezzell Brown    

    THE STACK OF LAST WEEK’S newspapers is abandoned on my living room floor, unread during a long weekend away, and unreadable now as this day dawns. I suppose, eventually, I will throw them away, knowing that the news they report is not just old—it is at best, absurdly imprecise, and at its worst, simply no longer true. The world today is a different place, and we have changed along with it.
    Whether or not we have discovered all of the sharp new edges—the fresh, jagged scar where life has fallen away from us—our own personal geography has changed. The ocean is no longer where it was. The coastlines to the east, and to the west, now join in the center—in the heartland, as we have called it, in other perilous times. The continents have moved closer in the seismic shift that hatred has caused.
    The angle of light has changed, ever so slightly. It shines eerily where it once did not, could not. It shines darkly. Ashen clouds are now part of the skyline. They have formed a layer between us and the rest of the universe, whose existence we are now prone sometimes to doubt.
    Our thoughts change shape and are re-formed constantly as each death is named, each horror filmed, each sorrow spoken. Certainty escapes us, now when we most need it.
    Our words collapse—hollowed out from the intense heat and impact of what we are feeling. Words crumble—they disintegrate, really, all air and ash and no longer what they once were. We have scraps of words, scraps of knowledge, but their true substance is lost. The wind blows them lightly away.
    We are part of the wreckage. We will comb through the debris of what we believed, or thought we knew, hoping that something has survived. And we will celebrate the heart that still beats, the pulse that still races, knowing there is no real measure of the life that was lost.
    From the rubble and ruin, voices cry out in anger and pain. Those are our voices. We are the victims and the witnesses. There is this sudden need to tell these stories, to commit this history to raging memory.
    But we are also the terrorists. We, too, seethe with hatred, like any true believer who has identified an enemy who does not believe as we do, or look like we look, or value those things that we hold most dear, or speak the same language. We, too, tear other’s lives apart with our intolerance and impatience. We, too, act with too little thought, or fail to act, allowing others’ actions to speak for us.
    We, too, believe we can mask our fear and strike out at those we fail to understand. We, too, believe one violent act justifies another, even greater one. We, too, long for vengeance. We, too, are terrorists.
    Today, when we revile the inhumanity of others, we must seek out our own humanity. How much more courage must it take to go into the wreckage, to seek out life, to face death, to cast off fear?
    We watch on television, unable even to comprehend the self-sacrifice of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save others’ lives. In every slumped shoulder we see the exhaustion of rescue workers, who sleep briefly and uneasily at the edge of mayhem before venturing back inside. We hear the voice of the narrator break, feel the clinched fear of the firefighter facing what others reasonably flee.
    These are our heroes—those who seek evidence of life at its outer margins. They are a remarkable affirmation of our dependence on, our responsibility to, each other.
    It is difficult to remember our lives two days ago when, as one writer said, “We lived on the other side of history’s rift.” But we who are able must remember those lives. We should fill our lungs with air, take a deep breath, and learn now the lessons that history will inevitably write, and has written many times before.
    We should commit ourselves to the greatest act of anti-terrorism by accepting the challenge to be ever more mindful of our lives, and how precious they are.
    On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s army invaded Poland. W.H. Auden wrote these words:
    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies:
    Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light,
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Most farming-dependent counties lost population in 2010-20

Percentage of rural counties, by major-economy types, that gained population from 2010 to 2020
Daily Yonder chart; click the image to enlarge it.

An analysis of Census Bureau data show that "rural counties where farming makes up a major part of the local economy were more likely than the rest of rural America to lose population over the past decade," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. "Counties that depend on recreation, on the other hand, were more likely to gain population than rural America overall."

The Yonder's recent analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data found much the same trend over the past 20 years.

Here are some other findings from the Yonder's analysis of Census Bureau data from 2010 to 2020:

  • 21% of rural counties with farming economies gained population over the decade.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 rural counties with recreation economies gained population.
  • About one-third of the nation's 1,976 non-metropolitan counties gained population.
  • Only 84 of the 391 rural farming-dependent counties gained population, compared to 135 of 228 recreation counties.
  • Rural farming counties lost 2.6% of their combined population, while the combined population of recreation counties grew by 3.5%.
  • Nationally, the rural population fell by 0.6%, from 46.3 million to just under 46.1 million.
Read more here from the Yonder, including an interactive county-level map.

More than 30 farm and agribusiness groups urge rural residents to get vaccinated, emphasizing individual choice

More than 30 farm and agribusiness groups have signed an open letter encouraging rural residents to get vaccinated. 

"As we hear heartbreaking accounts of the Covid-19 resurgence depleting resources in rural communities and overwhelming already stressed rural health care systems, we can’t help but feel a deep sense of frustration," the letter says. "After so much progress in fighting the pandemic – the decisions we’ve all made to stay safe, the work to develop a vaccine and a distribution system that could reach every American — we still have so far to go. As a farmer, a food worker or an input provider, we know that you play a critical role in the health of our rural towns and businesses. We know that you take great pride in helping keep your communities vibrant. Unfortunately, the virus is still threatening that vibrancy in many rural areas and indeed, in our nation.

"That’s why, as leaders of agricultural organizations, we are speaking up to support vaccination efforts in our rural communities and in all communities nationwide. To enable informed choices, it is critical that accurate information be heeded — and there has been no shortage of scientific data that supports the effectiveness and necessity of the Covid-19 vaccines. We know that you make science-based decisions every day—whether those decisions are how best to protect your crops or your livestock. Now, however, we need your help in ensuring the health of your families and your communities, which is why we urge you to support vaccinations in your community."

Signers include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Milk Producers Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

The letter reminds farmers and ranchers that they regularly administer vaccines to protect their animals, and that approved vaccines are safe and effective. Readers are urged to speak with a doctor or trusted local medical expert to get the facts.

Notably, the letter appeals to farmers' individual choice—a conservative mainstay since the beginning of the pandemic: "You know how powerful an individual decision can be. The decision you make on your farm today will feed your family and consumers around the world. Your choices and your dedication keep families and communities healthy. And just like these farm decisions, the decisions you make now can help ensure the months and years ahead are much brighter as we wrestle COVID-19 to the ground. In farm country, we talk a lot about rolling up our sleeves to get the job done in our fields and pastures. Now it is time that we join together and roll up our sleeves one more time to get this job done."

Roundup: Sturgis rally shows combined natural/vaccine immunity of 75% won't stop outbreaks from large events

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and immunization efforts:

As cases skyrocketed in August, Florida health officials changed the way they reported death data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giving the appearance of a pandemic in decline. Has your state or local government changed its pandemic reporting? Read more here.

Here's what we know about the Mu variant, the fifth variant of interest being monitored globally by the World Health OrganizationRead more here and here.

The coronavirus is spreading through animals such as deer, cats and dogs. It's unclear how much of a risk such cases are for humans, but hunters can take steps to protect themselves. Read more here.

A huge spike in coronavirus infections followed the recent Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota. That's noteworthy because the population has some of the highest levels of natural immunity in the nation, writes physician and health-policy researcher Ashish K. Jha. About half the state has immunity from previous infections and about half is fully vaccinated; there's some overlap between the two, so about 75% of the state has some immunity. The spike in cases after the rally tells us that 75% herd immunity isn't enough to stave off outbreaks after large community events, he writes. Read more here

Rural counties in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin that rely on dairy and animal agriculture have seen comparatively higher unemployment rates during the pandemic, a study says. Read more here.

Northern Idaho hospitals are rationing care because they have so many Covid cases. Read more here.

Hospitals are struggling in Mississippi, the least-vaccinated state, and high-level life support is getting hard to find across the South. See how your state and county stack up on this interactive map.

Why is the Delta surge hitting rural areas harder? Front-line workers "say it’s a perfect storm of personal freedom beliefs, mistrust of the government, a culture that tends toward taking care of things on their own, highly shared misinformation, and, yes, faith," Moira McCarthy reports for Healthline. Read more here.

A nationwide study found that most Americans (84%) are willing to take a coronavirus test. Nearly 52% preferred saliva testing over the nasal test (31.9%). A plurality of respondents (31.7%) preferred home testing, as opposed to 28.9% who preferred drive-through testing or the 23.4% who preferred testing in a hospital. More than a quarter of respondents said they'd be willing to take a coronavirus test using a less-preferred testing method at a less-convenient location if they were financially compensated. But most people who refused a coronavirus test for reasons other than testing method and location weren't persuaded by monetary incentive. Read more here.

Many who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 experience anger and lack of closure. Read more here.

More than one-fifth of Kentucky schools have shuttered because of outbreaks, but they're not learning much at home because the state legislature recently limited distance learning. Read more here.

A Sept. 10 webinar will discuss strategies for nurses, school health professionals, and other health-care professionals to address rural vaccine hesitancy with their patients. Read more here.

The pandemic has forced many rural hospitals to make changes in their workflow; that often creates new vulnerabilities hackers can exploit. A cybersecurity expert discusses the problem, and how rural hospitals can protect themselves from cyberattackers. Read more here.

Farmers should want to curtail the pandemic before it hurts American agricultural supply chains, write two agricultural economists. Read more here.

More first responders are dying from Covid-19, many who refused the vaccine. Read more here.

Rural leaders in Georgia say the pandemic has widened the rural/urban gap in educational attainment, health-care access, and workforce shortages. Read more here.

Weary health-care workers in three rural Appalachian hospitals are seeing more and sicker patients, but many workers still hesitate to get vaccinated. Read more here.

Urban areas of California are taming the Covid-19 surge, but rural areas with low vaccination rates remain in danger. Read more here.

Net farm income predicted to be highest in eight years, with 18% increase in crop and livestock receipts over 2020

Agriculture Department charts adapted by The Rural Blog. F=forecast. Click the image to enlarge it.

Farmers' net income is predicted to hit $113 billion in 2021, the highest figure since 2013, says the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service's newly updated Farm Income Forecast

One-third of net farm income will come from government aid, which is smaller than last year's share but still above average. And high commodity prices mean farmers are predicted to bring in 18% more in crop and livestock receipts than in 2020.

You can read the full report here, but below are some of the highlights:

  • Net farm income, a broad measure of profits, is estimated to increase by $15.5 billion (19.6%) from 2019 to 2020, and is forecast to increase by another $18.5 billion (19.5%) from 2020 to 2021.
  • Net farm income is forecast to be at $113.0 billion in 2021, its highest level since 2013 and 20% above its 2000-2020 average of $93.9 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
  • Net cash farm income, a more precise measure of farm profits that includes government payments, is expected to hit $134.7 billion in 2021, an increase of $19.8 billion (17.2%) over 2020 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
  • At $134.7 billion, net cash farm income would reach its highest level since 2014, and would be 19% above its 2000-2020 inflation-adjusted average of $111.4 billion.
  • Average net cash farm income per farm business is predicted to increase by $10,000 (11.9%) to $93,700. 
  • Average net cash farm income is expected to increase in 2021 for farm businesses in the Heartland, Northern Great Plains, Prairie Gateway, Eastern Uplands, and Mississippi Portal, but expected to decline in the Northern Crescent, Southern Seaboard, Basin and Range, and Fruitful Rim.
  • Farms specializing in hogs and corn are predicted to see the largest average net farm income growth in 2021, while farms specializing in dairy, cotton, and specialty crops are expected to see a decline.
  • Crop and livestock receipts are expected to hit $421.5 billion, a $64.3 billion (18%) increase over 2020. 
  • Total crop receipts are forecast to increase by $37.9 billion, or 19.7%, from 2020.
  • Total animal and animal product receipts are forecast to increase by $26.5 billion, or 16.0%, from 2020.
  • Higher commodity prices are driving mosts of that trend. Of that increase, $36 billion would come from corn and soybeans, $9.4 billion from hogs, $8.3 billion from cattle, and $7.3 billion from broilers. Corn, soybeans, hogs, cattle, and broilers are all predicted to see double-digit increases in receipts.
  • Lower direct government payments and higher production expenses are predicted to partially offset higher cash receipts. 
  • Direct government farm payments are expected to fall by $17.7 billion (38.6%) from $45.7 billion in 2020 to $28.0 billion in 2021. Such direct payments increased by $23.2 billion, or 103.5%, from 2019 to 2020.
  • Spending in nearly all categories of expense is predicted to rise. Total production expenses, including operator dwelling expenses, are predicted to increase by 26.1 billion (7.3%) to $383.5 billion.
  • Farm assets are predicted to increase by $79.0 billion (2.5%) to $3.35 trillion, mostly because of an anticipated rise in real-estate value.
  • Overall farm debt is forecast to stay mostly the same from 2020, decreasing $1.0 billion (0.2%) to $443.9 billion. 
  • Farm sector equity and assets are predicted to decline by about 1.0% from 2020.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Mandatory telehealth coverage orders expiring in many states, hampering its potential to help in rural areas

Telehealth could help close rural health-care access gaps, and many hoped that its increasing popularity during the pandemic would lay the groundwork for long-term use, “but as the second summer of the pandemic wanes, state emergency orders that mandate coverage of telehealth visits and waive the requirement for out-of-state medical licenses are expiring," Massachusetts journalist and physician Trisha Pasricha reports for The Washington Post. "In their wake, more patients are discovering that telemedicine is no longer an option for them. With a fourth wave of coronavirus cases surging, the safety of in-person visits, especially for immunocompromised patients, remains a concern."

Rural areas have been slower to adopt telehealth, especially in hospitals, because of logistical concerns like already too-low government reimbursements and lack of broadband. But, the technology "held promise for the long term. Its potential to reach individuals in remote communities, nursing homes, and low-income neighborhoods could mitigate barriers to care," Pasricha writes. "The release from certain restrictions enabled patients to hear expert opinions without moving from their dining room tables. In turn, it gave physicians the opportunity to see patients across the country without obtaining licenses in multiple states. Telehealth also allowed providers an informative window into the actual living environments that shaped their patients’ well-being."

Wednesday webinar to interview Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, others on federal funding for rural prosperity

The Biden administration has pledged to support and better fund rural communities, but what does that look like? The Brookings Institution's Center for Sustainable Development will host a free webinar at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday, Sept. 8 to discuss the issue, featuring a conversation between Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and New York Times columnists Nicholas Kristof on new Agriculture Department initiatives meant to further rural development. "Then, a panel of government leaders and rural experts will discuss current administration and legislative efforts focused on rural community and economic development, as well as how the federal government can be a trusted partner to rural communities as they seek to realize their visions for prosperity," says the website. 

Audience members may submit questions during the webinar. Click here for more information or to register. 

Census data analysis: 2/3 of rural counties lost population since 2010; share of population that is rural fell to 14%

Map by The Daily Yonder using Census data processed by The Associated Press and provided by the 2020 Census Co-Op. Click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

The nation's rural population dropped by 280,390, or 0.6 percent, from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The slight decrease belies lopsided population trends: two-thirds of the nation's non-metropolitan counties lost population, "but the losses were largely offset by gains in the remaining one-third of rural counties, resulting in an overall decrease in rural population of less than 1 percent from 2010 to 2020," Tim Marema reports for The Daily Yonder. Coastal regions generally saw population increases while interior areas, notably in the Midwest, Great Plains, and Black Belt, lost population.

"The increase or decrease in population also varied by what type of metropolitan area counties were in. Nonmetropolitan (rural) counties were the only type that lost population overall. But counties in larger metropolitan areas tended to gain a larger percentage than counties in smaller metropolitan areas," Marema reports. "Besides falling in raw numbers during the decade, the proportion of the U.S. population that is rural also fell because the overall size of the U.S. population increased. As of 2020, 13.9% of the U.S. population lives in a rural or nonmetropolitan county. That’s down from 15% in 2010."

Click here for more from the Yonder, including charts, regional analysis, and an interactive county-level map.

Interested in making maple syrup? Online workshop series starting Sept. 14 will cover the basics

Photo by Steve Patton, UK
Agricultural Communications
Got maple trees on your property? Like to make some syrup from their sap? Whether you're looking to sell or just make some for your own pantry, the University of Kentucky's upcoming webinar series will cover the basics. UK's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is partnering with the Kentucky Maple Syrup Association and the Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development to host four online workshops on Sept. 14, Oct. 14, Oct. 23, and Nov. 6 at various times. 

The workshops are the first part of an effort funded by three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grow and expand the maple syrup industry in Kentucky, but the online workshops are open to residents of all states, Extension Forester Billy Thomas says. Click here for more information or to register. 

How a Montana town silenced a Neo-Nazi hate campaign

Whitefish, Montana
Wikipedia map
When notorious white nationalist Richard B. Spencer moved to Whitefish, Montana, the town fought back. "Residents who joined with state officials, human rights groups and synagogues say their bipartisan counteroffensive could hold lessons for others in an era of disinformation and intimidation, and in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot,Elizabeth Williamson reports for The New York Times. "Leaders in Whitefish say Mr. Spencer, who once ran his National Policy Institute from his mother’s $3 million summer house here, is now an outcast in this resort town in the Rocky Mountains, unable to get a table at many of its restaurants. His organization has dissolved. Meanwhile, his wife has divorced him, and he is facing trial next month in Charlottesville, Va., over his role in the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march there, but says he cannot afford a lawyer."

Spencer's rejection in Whitefish is "no accident," Williamson reports, as the town is a "mostly liberal, affluent community" in a county that voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. 

Shortly afterward, Andrew Anglin, founder of the Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, shared personal information and social media accounts of Gersh and her family, and encouraged followers to "take action" to defend Mrs. Spencer. "A post in which Mr. Anglin encouraged his followers to “stop by and tell her in person what you think of her actions” was the first of some 30 articles he published targeting the Gersh family and the Jewish community in Whitefish, according to a lawsuit Ms. Gersh filed in 2017 against Mr. Anglin in U.S. District Court in Montana," Williamson reports. "Ms. Gersh received hundreds of text messages, emails and Christmas cards threatening her. Her voice mail filled up several times a day. Hateful comments about Ms. Gersh appeared on real estate websites. Homeowners were afraid to list with her." Other local Jewish leaders and residents were threatened as well, and Anglin announced a march on Whitefish to be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Then-Governor Steve Bullock, the attorney general and a congressional delegation wrote a bipartisan open letter repudiating the "ignorance, hatred and threats of violence." Meanwhile, Mayor John Muhlfeld "said that the town had not refused Mr. Anglin a special event permit but that Mr. Anglin had not met the town’s conditions, including a prohibition on firearms," Williamson reports.

As the march neared, police and federal authorities prepared for possible violence and nonprofits such as the Southern Poverty Law Center advised residents on what to do. Accordingly, Jewish residents kept a low profile and took steps to increase safety, while volunteers distributed thousands of paper menorahs; Gersh said "every window in Whitefish" had one. Locals also held an anti-hate rally that drew 600 attendees. And on the eve of the march, Rabbi Francine Green Roston of the Glacier Jewish Community/B’nai Shalom held a chicken and matzo ball soup get-together for 350 at the middle school as an expression of appreciation and unity.

The day of the planned march, "not a single neo-Nazi turned up," Williamson reports. 

Roston, who now lectures groups on how to ward off similar hate campaigns, told Williamson: "The best way to respond to hate and cyberterrorism in your community is through solidarity ... Another big principle is to take threats seriously, and prepare for the worst."