Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Agriculture, Farming, and Food Reading Picks for this Week

Peace, Plenty, and Prosperity ~ Peter Henderson & Co. ~ c1922

This Tuesday news thread is a weekly feature here at Big Picture Agriculture.
  1. Farm Economy Downturn Prompts Fears Of A ‘Crisis’ | Harvest Public Media
  2. Rural Mainstreet Index Experiences Biggest Fall in Almost Nine Years: Drought Conditions Weighing on Region’s Farms | Creighton.edu
  3. Rise of mega farms: how the US model of intensive farming is invading the world | The Guardian
  4. Iowa communities need more control over placing large animal facilities - petition says | DesMoines Register
  5. In a major defeat for the ethanol industry, senators of both parties joined forces late last week to sink a controversial bill that would’ve allowed gasoline with 15 percent ethanol to be sold year-round. | Washington Times
  6. Senator Blasts Ethanol from the Floor | AgWired
  7. US on track to set ethanol production record | Farm and Dairy
  8. U.S. Ethanol and DDGs Exports to NAFTA Partners | AgMRC
  9. The importance of business succession for rural communities | Iowa State
  10. To save rural Iowa, we must oppose Monsanto-Bayer merger | DesMoines Register
  11. As California’s labor shortage grows, farmers race to replace workers with robots | LA Times
  12. Conservation drainage - Farmers learn about options to protect water quality | The Messenger
  13. Clovis is most controversial USDA pick in 15 years | Successful Farming
  14. ‘Polyester has bitten cotton in the behind’ | Delta Farm Press
  15. More retailers are rolling out more eco-friendly clothing to meet growing demands by consumers | AP
  16. Don't Get Sucked In by the Rally in Agriculture Commodities | Bloomberg
  17. Trends in Global Soybean Production | Agricultural Economic Insights
  18. Symphony of non-GMOs, biotech and covers helps Arkansas farmer turn a profit | Agweb
  19. Deere introduces monthly fees for newest farm vehicle display model | DTN
  20. Innovating ’til the cows come home: Bill Gates visits Australian ranch to witness digital agriculture | GeekWire
  21. Study finds Nachusa Grasslands restoration is working in the soil, too | Phys.org
  22. Iowa Company should be commended for antibiotic free livestock feed | DesMoines Register
  23. Learn what works — and doesn’t — from this no-tiller | American Agriculturalist
  24. What have we learned about dryland cropping systems in the last 15 years? | Washington State (Book)
  25. Weed killer turns neighbor against neighbor in farm country | ABC News
  26. UK has nearly 800 livestock mega farms, investigation reveals | The Guardian
  27. 'Close to the sheds, the smell is overpowering': inside a UK mega farm | The Guardian
  28. The Man Who Got Americans to Eat Trash Fish (pollock) Is Now a Billionaire | Bloomberg
  29. Former banker launches pompano aquaculture venture | My Palm Beach Post
  30. ‘Farming God’s Way’ in Africa | Mission Network News
  31. U.S. certified organic cropland has increased since 2002 | USDA
  32. Rural median household income remains about 25 percent below the urban median | USDA
  33. Stopping the cycle of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond | TreeHugger
  34. Nine of America’s Largest Urban Farms | Seedstock
  35. How many people can Australia feed? | The Conversation
  36. If It Smells Like a Petunia or Shampoo, It Might Be a Pesticide | USDA
  37. Recent Trends in Certified Organic Tree Fruit in Washington State: 2016 | Washington State PDF
  38. Italy demands origin labels for pasta and rice | Euractiv
  39. Germany: Two Million Kilogramms of Tomatoes to be harvested in 2017 | Fresh Plaza
  40. With diners prizing Maine oysters, farming them booms along coast | Press Herald
  41. Survey: Wal-Mart Leads the Pack in Online Grocery Sales | USAgnet
  42. 10 mega myths about farming to remember on your next grocery run | Washington Post
  43. Costco: It's where to get your olive oil, mixed nuts, organic peanut butter, 100% maple syrup, canned albacore tuna in water, blueberries, and bacon | Go Bankrates
  44. Trader Joe’s Butter Is As Good As The French Stuff | HuffPost
  45. More Than Bread: Sourdough As a Window Into The Microbiome | NPR The Salt
  46. Over 100 Million Americans have Diabetes or Prediabetes | CDC
  47. Common Questions About Fruits and Vegetables | Harvard School of Public Health
  48. Diet rich in tomatoes cuts skin cancer in half in mice | Ohio State Univ.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Things Holding Back Rural America: Access to Healthcare, Internet, Grocery Stores and Schools

Rural hospital in Killam, Alberta, 1981

Dear Readers, I remember overhearing a conversation when I attended a fall annual gathering at the Land Institute a number of years ago by young would-be-farmer millennials. One was explaining to the other that much as he and his wife would like to farm, they were concerned about having access to quality health care as they neared starting a family. I've also seen my relatives struggle with limited internet options in rural Nebraska this past decade. Schaffer and Ray nail some major problems with rural vitality in the U.S. in the article which follows and these issues are more important than the average coastal "urban farming" writer realizes. Mentioned are health care, school distance, grocery distance, and phone and internet service. The "get big or get out" farming model continually erodes service and amenities for rural communities. Sustainable farming practices like rotational grazing are shunned, too, if the farmer must get off-farm employment in order to obtain health insurance.--k.m.

Health care in rural America
by Dr. Harwood D. Schaffer and Dr. Daryll E. Ray, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, Knoxville, TN

In a recent article, our colleague Alan Guebert wrote that he had to pay “$170 per month [for] rural internet and telephone service compared to $50 per month for both” when he moved from town 12 years ago. Today his “basic monthly phone and internet service [cost] nudges $300 per month.” He lives “just…1.3 miles off a county highway where fiber optic cable [lie] buried in its right-of-way” but can’t access that service.

Extending broadband service to US farms and ranches has been a part of the farm bill discussion over a decade-and-a-half and yet those living outside of rural towns still depend on slower, more expensive services like DSL and satellite.

But broadband is not the only service that is affected by the large spaces, sparse population and long distances that characterize rural areas, especially those in the arid West. Getting to school often involves long rides/drives each day. While urban and suburban residents can jump in the car for a quick run to pick up something at the big box or grocery store for rural residents driving to the nearest store can take an hour or more.

For residents of many rural counties, a trip to the doctor or the nearest hospital involves a long drive. The low population density means that the large number of doctors and multiple hospital systems that are available to urban residents result in significant differences in the cost of health insurance between densely and sparsely populated areas.

In urban areas, insurance companies can negotiate among a number of health care systems to obtain the lowest reimbursement rates and thus lower premiums. And, different companies can make agreements with different systems, resulting in the availability of multiple health insurance plans. In rural areas where there is only one hospital covering a wide area, insurance companies often have little leverage with health care providers and when one insurer does manage to negotiate a reimbursement rate below the list price, that effectively locks competing health insurance companies out of the market in that hospital’s service area.

Without a significant government subsidy or tying insurance company access to more densely populated areas to providing comparable insurance to rural areas in the state, rural residents may find that they have no access to affordable health insurance whether it is under the Affordable Care Act or the Better Care Reconciliation Act that is currently before the US Senate.

The governing dynamic is low population density and a limited number of health care providers. Without finding ways to compensate for these dynamics neither program will benefit a large number of farmers, ranchers, and rural residents.

And yet, according to the 2017 National Farmer and Rancher Survey, “Three out of four farmers and ranchers (74%) believe USDA should represent their needs in national health insurance policy discussions” (http://tinyurl.com/y9939pfp). The survey also found that “just over half of farmers and ranchers (52%) are not confident they could pay the costs of a major illness such as a heart attack, cancer or loss of limb without going into debt.”

The lack of affordable health care options results in farmers and ranchers seeking “full-time off-farm or ranch jobs with benefits.” This limits the time that they can devote to developing their operation.

Without solving the health insurance dilemma in a way that meets the needs of farmers, ranchers, and small town residents living in sparsely populated areas, the debate over the government’s role in health care will continue unabated.