Friday, April 29, 2022
May 5 NNA webinar will help community journalists cover elections; $20 for non-members, $5 for faculty, students
Scientists: 1/3 of ocean species could die in 300 years; warming has helped extirpate at least 400 species on Earth
Meatpackers say they didn't collude to increase prices; oppose bill to make them buy part of supply in cash market
"Earlier in the day, Missouri cattle farmer Coy Young told the committee his family's farm cannot continue operating long term unless changes are made to the cattle markets to allow cattle producers to earn profits," Todd Neeley reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "Young was featured in a December 2021 New York Times story on the cattle industry. The Times reported Young had considered suicide." Five cattle farmers who were supposed to testify on Tuesday and Wednesday backed out, saying they feared retribution, Neeley reports.
Steve Key, 'one of the most respected and accomplished newspaper-association leaders,' retires today in Indiana
|Steve Key makes the case for Indiana newspapers.|
Key started with HSPA as legislative counsel and director of government affairs and became the boss in 2010, succeeding the legendary Dick Cardwell. He says Indiana, California, Florida and Pennsylvania are the only state press groups that have a lawyer on staff, and that won't change; he is being succeeded by Amelia Dieter McClure, who has been HSPA legislative counsel.
Asked his proudest career moment, Key said "Perhaps the most impactful was successfully lobbying for the permanent creation of Indiana’s Public Access Counselor’s office. This position serves as an educator and mediator on questions of the state’s right to know what its government is doing through use of the Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act. The office has reduced the number of lawsuits required by the public to file to two categories – questions of how the law should be interpreted and situations where state or local public officials have decided to ignore the law."
Key has a journalism degree from Butler University in Indianapolis. He worked at the Quincy Herald-Whig in Illinois, the now-defunct Kentucky Post in Covington, the Daily Journal in Franklin, Ind., and the Noblesville Daily Ledger, where he was managing editor. After a brief spell in utility public relations, he got a law degree. He told The Rural Blog, "I’ve had a job that I believe in and I think is important because of the impact it can have on legislation and the viability of newspapers, so I’ve been very fortunate to do that."
|Amelia Dieter McClure (Photo via IBJ)|
Quick hits: Sterile super-Romeo trout may help curb invasive species; tools for rural electric co-ops transitioning to renewable energy; federal aid fuels pickleball boom
|Brook trout have been outcompeting native trout for years.|
(NPL photo by Nick Hawkins)
Thursday, April 28, 2022
As you plant your garden this year, beware of invasive Asian jumping worms that are spreading across the U.S.
"The species is harming ecosystems. The jumping worms can devour organic matter more rapidly than their counterparts, robbing forests of the layer critical for seedlings and wildflowers. In areas of heavy infestation, native plants, soil invertebrates, salamanders, birds and other animals may decline, scientists warn," Andre Claudio reports for Route Fifty.
The worms were first seen in Wisconsin around 2013, but these days "can be found from Long Island, New York to Ontario, Canada," Claudio reports. "Besides New York, they have been spotted in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio."
They look a lot like the nightcrawlers you might use for fish bait, and in fact, scientist believe that's why they were first brought here, but you can tell them apart. The easiest way is by the clitellum, the thick band about two-thirds of the way down the worm's body. In a regular earthworm the clitellum is pink or reddish and slightly raised, but an Asian jumping worm's clitellum is lighter and flush with the body.
Scientists are still working on how to best control the worms, but in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help slow the spread, such as: only buy compost, mulch or other organic matter that's been heated to at least 104°F, since jumping-worm egg casings can't survive that temperature, Claudio reports. The University of New Hampshire's Extension Service has even more tips, including this one: Report any you see to your local Extension office.
Local resistance to utility-scale renewable-energy projects appears to be driven by worries about loss of farmland
|Part of a utility-scale solar farm (Photo from Farm and Energy Initiative)|
"The United States is experiencing a boom in utility-scale renewable energy projects, as solar and wind prices continue to fall and the Biden administration pushes for a fossil fuel-free electricity sector by 2035," Diana Kruzman reports for Grist. "Throughout the process, developers seeking vast expanses of cheap land for utility-scale facilities have faced pushback from the likes of Massachusetts fishermen, coal plant supporters, and environmental groups concerned about desert tortoises. Now, rural communities around the Midwest are mobilizing to restrict or ban large renewable energy projects. Experts say that some residents have been swayed by misinformation about the health impacts of solar and wind. But for most, the issue is tied to concerns about the loss of agricultural land in a region long-defined by its farming roots.
USDA predicts grocery prices will rise 5.5% this year, largest hike since 2008 and third straight year above 2% average
|Fit, the 2022 Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year,|
with her owner Cindy Deak (Farm Bureau photo)
Entrants can also vie for the coveted People's Choice Pup award, on which the public votes, beginning in October. The winning pooch will get bragging rights and a year's worth of Purina dog food.
Click here for more information or to enter, along with footage of the current Farm Dog of the Year: a 5-year-old border collie named Fit who helps her owners move sheep on their Florida farm.
|Respondents polled between January and March 2022; fully vaccinated individuals are those who got either a single Johnson & Johnson shot or the two-shot sequence from Moderna or Pfizer. (Covid States Project chart)|
Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Woes of the pandemic prompt more states to require financial-literacy classes for high-school graduation
"The Covid-19 pandemic, which revealed how many American adults live on the financial edge, has boosted ongoing efforts to make financial literacy lessons a school requirement," Elaine S. Povich reports for Stateline, a news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts.Seven states require a stand-alone financial-literacy course to graduate from high school, "and five additional states' requirements take effect in the next year or two," Povich reports. "About 25 mandate at least some financial training, sometimes as part of an existing course. This year, another 20 states or so have considered setting or expanding similar rules."
Opponents of such required courses say they are well motivated but "infringe on limited time available for other high school electives and would impose costly teacher training or hiring requirements," Povich reports. Some opponents of mandates say it should be a local decision. However, support for required courses is "remarkably bipartisan," Povich reports, noting bills signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Democratic Gov. Dan McKee of Rhode Island.
"About 16% of 15-year-old U.S. students surveyed in 2018 did not reach the baseline level of financial literacy proficiency, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development," a multinational agency, Povich reports.
Rural Texans file federal lawsuit against Hill Country county that banned books and fired a librarian
As The Rural Blog recently shared, a rural Texas county has been in an uproar since last fall, when conservative activists got local leaders to censor library books and fire a librarian who objected to it. What happened next illustrates how similar efforts to ban books could go."A citizens group in Llano County, Tex., has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that county officials violated their constitutional rights when they unilaterally removed 'award-winning books' from the public libraries 'because they disagree with the ideas within them,'" Annie Gowen reports for The Washington Post. "In the 31-page filing in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, a group of anti-censorship activists say that county officials violated the First Amendment when they removed the books, and that they did so again when they 'permanently terminated access to over 17,000 digital books' they could not censor, affecting the elderly and people with disabilities who find it hard to travel to the physical library. Commissioners also voted to close library board meetings to the public, a move that also denied these citizens equal protection under the law, the suit argues."
Housing shortage triggers skyrocketing rents, but construction costs slow affordable housing projects
A housing shortage is fueling skyrocketing housing costs in rural areas and elsewhere. But rising construction costs—especially for lumber and petroleum-based products such as asphalt—make it difficult to build more housing and ease the crunch, and federal laws make it hard to apply pandemic aid to the problem, Kristian Hernandez reports for Stateline.
"For developers of market-rate apartments, [cost increases mean] charging higher rents. For those building rent-restricted projects using tax credits or other government aid, the rising costs could quash an entire project. And the construction slowdown is coming at a time when there is a desperate need to increase the nation’s supply of affordable housing," Hernandez reports. "The stock of low-cost rentals has been shrinking for some time: In 2019, there were 3.9 million fewer units renting for less than $600 than there were in 2011, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. The overall rental vacancy rate in the fourth quarter of 2021 was just 5.6%—the lowest figure since the mid-1980s—evidence that there is an extremely tight supply."
Average rents have gone up more than 17% in the past year, and tenants' income hasn't kept pace, and neither have government housing programs, Hernandez reports. About half of the nation's renters are paying more than the recommended limit of 30% of their income in rent, but government rental assistance has remained essentially flat for the past 20 years, according to Ingrid Ellen, director of New York University's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.
Though the federal government has allotted billions in aid for the pandemic, its rules bar the money from being used for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. LIHTC is the largest source of affordable housing financing, and has an outsized impact in poverty-stricken rural areas. "The problem is that, under the current rules, recovery funds must be spent by the end of 2026. That means the money can’t be used for long-term loans to help finance LIHTC developments," Hernandez reports. "Some state housing agencies have found a way around the restriction by mixing federal coronavirus aid and other funds ... Some agencies have been able to use recovery funds to cover up to 75% of the cost of a loan with these workarounds, but the process is complicated and adds costs to a project." A bipartisan bill would let states loan pandemic aid for LIHTC sites.
Pandemic roundup: Shots could have prevented 234K Covid-19 deaths; decade of public preschool gains erased
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
Landowners' growing interest in conserving their land ignites debate over property rights of heirs who might want to sell
Conservation land-trust groups across the U.S. have seen a spike in interest from landowners who want to preserve their farms and other lands from development, "but the growing interest in preserving privately held land has sparked a fierce debate between supporters who say such efforts guarantee environmental protections and critics who say they take away individual property rights," Alex Brown reports for Stateline. "A handful of states are considering expanding their conservation easement programs, which offer tax breaks to landowners in exchange for giving up development rights to their farms and natural lands. In many cases, those easements last in perpetuity, offering durable protection even when the property changes ownership."
However, "Lawmakers in several states have pushed to give officials veto power over conservation easements or to require expiration dates for the agreements. They argue that the contracts block future generations from making their own decisions about the land," Brown reports. "Other opponents argue that public money should not be used to fund conservation on private land. They claim that efforts to protect natural spaces will cause housing shortages in fast-growing communities and limit tax revenues for local governments. Both sides see the others’ efforts as something of a land grab. How states respond could determine the fate of tens of millions of acres."
General anti-vaccine sentiment gaining new momentum amid opposition to coronavirus vaccination for children
Opposition to requiring coronavirus vaccines for children has breathed new life into a movement to eliminate all childhood vaccine mandates, or at least limit the application of such requirements.
More than 65 bills to limit or eliminate mandatory childhood vaccinations have been introduced in 25 states this year. "In Missouri, for example, legislators are considering a measure exempting private school students from vaccine requirements. In Louisiana, a bill in the House would prohibit vaccinations on school property and at school-sponsored events," Sandy West reports for Kaiser Health News. "All states require specific childhood vaccinations for illnesses such as polio, measles, and mumps, but exemptions vary. They all allow exemptions for people with medical concerns, 44 states allow religious exemptions, and 15 allow philosophical exemptions, according to 2021 data from the National Conference of State Legislatures."
Anti-vaccine activism isn't new, but public-health experts say the movement has gained ground amid fears surrounding the coronavirus vaccine. Anti-vaccine sentiment once relied on long-debunked theories that vaccines cause autism, but in recent years "the movement began to shift its focus to align more with the populist ideology of 'individual freedoms' put forward by Second Amendment advocates and the tea party," West reports.
However, general anti-vaccine efforts aren't entirely grassroots. The similarity of anti-vaccine bills from state to state "raises red flags to vaccine advocates because it suggests that a coordinated effort to dismantle vaccine requirements and public-health infrastructure is underway," one expert told West.
It's unclear how much traction anti-vaccine-mandate bills will get. Most people support childhood vaccine mandates, but the issue is increasingly getting tangled up in the political minefield surrounding coronavirus vaccinations. Some politicians say they're hoping cooler heads will prevail.
Kansas state Rep. John Eplee, a Republican and family physician, said he voted against a state mask mandate in hope of defusing tensions, but supports childhood vaccination mandates. "While Eplee hopes the 'passions' inflamed by Covid die down with distance from the early days of the pandemic, he’s concerned that voters have forgotten the damage done by vaccine-controllable diseases, making them susceptible to disinformation from determined anti-vaccine activists and the politicians among their ranks," West reports.
"I hate to see human nature play out like that," Eplee told West. "But if people are vocal enough and loud enough, they can swing enough votes to change the world in a not-so-good way for public health and vaccinations."
Registration is open for free virtual conference May 23-24 on rural placemaking, which improves community structure
- Initiating Place
- Public Spaces & Gathering Places
- Community Cultural Planning & Assessments
- Cross-Sector Engagement
Friday webinar will discuss the accuracy of the 2020 census, an issue in many rural areas, and how to best use its data
From the website: "With the 2020 census results out, many are eager to use the data—and to assess its accuracy. The U.S. Census Bureau has begun releasing its own data-quality evaluations, with national results from the 2020 Post-Enumeration Survey and the 2020 Demographic Analysis estimates. Data users outside the bureau are looking at quality, too. In this webinar, we’ll discuss this decade’s census data quality and how it compares with that of previous decades, what additional analyses are coming from inside and outside the bureau, and what questions remain."
- Tim Kennel, assistant division chief for statistical methods, Census Bureau
- Teresa Sullivan, chair, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Panel to Evaluate the Quality of the 2020 Census
- Dr. William O'Hare, president, O'Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC
Rural Iowa journalist opines that Biden and the Democrats have done much for rural America and should say so
President Biden's name is mud in much of rural America, but he has done more for such places in two years than former President Trump did in four, writes one journalist in rural Iowa. "The rural economy is stronger, wages are higher and infrastructure projects are popping up all over," Iowa radio news director Robert Leonard writes in The New York Times. "Biden and his fellow Democrats are responsible for many of the improvements and for bringing back a sense of stability. For the midterms, they should run on these successes — the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill. And they should run on why they have worked: Democrats should run on Democratic values."
The recent infrastructure bill made a point of directing funding to rural areas, and it's "so obviously beneficial to the communities that even Republicans who voted against it are taking credit," Leonard writes. He lists other things the administration has done (or undone) to help rural areas, such as promoting competition among meatpackers.
But all that seems unlikely to generate enough goodwill to help Democrats this fall. "When it comes to the midterms, the problem is not really about Mr. Biden himself but about long-running trends, and the only way to alter those trends is to change the perception of Democrats on the national level," Leonard writes. "Too often, Democrats leave it to Republicans to set the agenda and frame issues, or blame conservative media."
Instead, he writes, "Democrats should be proud of what the party has been and is — the party of Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare, of greater opportunity for more and more Americans — and what it is and what it stands for, and their values: for smart government being part of the solution, not the problem; for health care as a right, not a privilege; for clean water and air and effective climate solutions; for taxation that doesn’t favor the rich; for equal opportunity for all; for life chances and opportunities that aren’t determined by one’s ZIP code, race, gender, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity. These are Democratic values. They can play everywhere, including in rural America. Run on those."
Leonard is news director of KNIA and KRLS, serving Knoxville, Pella and Indianola, and author of Deep Midwest: Midwestern Explorations.
Monday, April 25, 2022
School probe wins Arkansas weekly Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Journalism from Harvard's Nieman Foundation
|Madison County Record photo by Shannon Hahn|
Wall Street Journal video explains many reasons why fertilizer prices are so high and might go higher in 2023
Bitcoin mining booms in some rural areas, thanks to ban on it in China, but locals complain about noise, few jobs
|Blockware Mining's cryptocurrency mine at Paducah, Kentucky (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by Ryan C. Hermens)|
In the past year or so, "Companies have moved thousands of specialized computers into Kentucky to 'mine' for bitcoin, a cryptocurrency — or virtual currency — sometimes referred to as digital gold. Critics say it’s bad for the environment and produces few jobs," rural Kentucky reporter Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Here is a more in-depth primer about bitcoin mining, but essentially, shoe box-sized computers "earn" bitcoin by being the first to find the correct answer to complex calculations, which are aimed at preventing counterfeiting and stealing. But all that "mining" computation, and the massive fans needed to keep computers from overheating, is noisy and takes a lot of electricity. An official in southeastern Kentucky's Harlan County, for example, told Estep that a local project will use as much power as eight Walmart supercenters.
Cheap electricity in Kentucky, about 10% lower than the national average, has made the state attractive to bitcoin miners. "Kentucky had 18.7 percent of the collective computing power in the U.S devoted to bitcoin mining as of last October, according to Foundry, a company that operates a large bitcoin mining pool, CNBC said in a story. That was second only to New York, with 19.9 percent of the computing power. Georgia was next at 17.3 percent and Texas was home to 14 percent of the computing power, called hashrate," Estep reports. "Companies have set up racks of mining rigs on shelves in industrial buildings in the western end of the state, at sites left empty when coal mines shut down in Eastern Kentucky, even in shipping containers to get up and running as quickly as possible."
Kentucky legislators passed two tax breaks in 2021 meant to attract bitcoin miners, but the industry is controversial: "Some people don’t like the idea of forgoing tax revenue from cryptocurrency miners — or other companies, for that matter — while other needs in Kentucky aren’t well-funded; others see echoes of coal mining in cryptocurrency mining, with the profits going to out-of-state corporations," Estep reports. Also, though bitcoin mining creates construction and set-up jobs, the operations only provide a handful of permanent jobs after the mine is up and running.
One example in East Tennessee shows what happens when the noise of bitcoin mining inspires buyer's remorse, Kevin Williams reports for The Washington Post. In the rural community of Limestone, a bitcoin mining plant opened up last April. The town initially welcomed the plant and hoped for more jobs and an economic boost. Now residents and local officials say the mine is sometimes as loud as a jet engine. The county has filed suit against the company and the local electricity provider that owns the land the mine sits on, and county commissioners have blocked attempts to open a second mine."Objections from local residents have complicated prospects for cryptocurrency mining in Appalachia — despite cheap land, plentiful power and utility companies hungry for additional revenue streams to replace the manufacturing customers that have been leaving for decades," Williams reports.
About two-thirds of the world's bitcoin mines were in China until its government banned it last year, citing bitcoin's price volatility as a threat to citizens' assets and the nation's overall financial stability, Estep reports. Similar concerns prompted President Biden to order a review of the cryptocurrency industry, but in the meantime bitcoin mining operations have been increasingly popular in the U.S.
Rural Midwestern bankers say local economies thrive, but predict economic downturn with little impact from E15 sales
|Creighton University chart compares current month to last month and year ago; click here to download it and chart below.|
An April survey of rural bankers in 10 Midwestern states that rely on agriculture and energy showed still-growing local economies amid deepening concerns about the near future. The index surveys bankers in about 200 rural communities with an average population of 1,300 in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Thursday, April 28 webinar will show how to read USDA's baseline agricultural projections for the next decade
"The USDA Interagency Agricultural Projections Committee develops long-term agricultural projections, also referred to as 'baseline' projections, that provide a scenario for the U.S. farm sector and global trade for the next 10 years. Projections cover agricultural commodities, agricultural trade, and aggregate indicators of each sector (such as farm income). The projections identify major forces and uncertainties affecting future agricultural markets; prospects for global long-term economic growth, consumption, and trade; and future price trends and trade flows of major farm commodities. In this webinar, ERS agricultural economist Matthew Miller will discuss how the projections are made and used, provide highlights from the recent projections, and demonstrate how to find the data on the ERS website.