The cost of being shut out of overseas markets for soybeans, beef, pork, chicken and more will be in the billions. Once those markets are gone, they will be difficult to recover. Commodity prices continue to drop, and good weather suggests an excellent crop is in the making, which will drive prices further down. Brazil is ready to step in with increased soybean production, and China has already shifted its purchasing power there. Rural America is about to undergo a major demographic shift. President Trump didn’t start it, but he has accelerated a crisis that might have taken a generation or two to play out. Now it might take only a few years.Rural America is going to be hollowed out very quickly. Farms will become consolidated, and towns that are already in trouble will certainly die.Iowa’s farmers are aging, and younger farmers aren’t replacing them proportionately. Sixty percent of Iowa farmland is owned by people 65 years or older, and 35 percent of farmland is owned by people 75 or older. Another casualty: our community banks. As farms get larger, farm loans are less likely to be local. A big operation with farms in dozens of counties that maybe even cross state lines probably won’t use local banks for credit. At a certain point, populations won’t be enough to support rural hospitals and clinics, and they, too, will be gone. Rural hospitals are one of the major employers in the community. Even if you have a good manufacturing company in town, if you lose the hospital, they won’t be able to attract the employees they need.
On the east side of Detroit, 42-year-old Roquesha O’Neal is one potential target of cuts to SNAP. She relies on the program to take care of herself and her disabled, teenage son. She receives a monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check worth $750 for her son and makes an additional $150 a month babysitting and doing odd jobs for neighbors. After rent and utilities, her family is left with about $500 a month to live on. Even with SNAP, putting food on the table can still feel like a full-time job: SNAP recipients only receive on average $1.40 a meal. O’Neal gets even less than this, feeding herself and her son on $205 a month or roughly $1.13 per meal, per person. And this doesn’t include her daughter’s son, for whom she provides free childcare and also has to feed.O’Neal has had to be resourceful, visiting the local soup kitchen run by Capuchin Friars and “bargain shopping” with neighbors, making bulk purchases of staples like bread and rice to share. Luckily, O’Neal has a branch of the Aldi grocery store chain nearby, but she has to take public transportation or carpool with neighbors to get to the soup kitchen because she doesn’t have a car. She says that bus fare is her largest monthly expense.
On July 2nd, a month after the Trump Administration imposed a twenty-five-per-cent tariff on steel imported from Mexico, Canada, and the European Union, Stuart Speyer sent a carefully worded letter to his customers. Speyer is the president of Tennsco Corporation, a “storage and filing solutions” manufacturer based outside of Nashville, in Dickson, Tennessee. ”Ninety-nine per cent” of the steel that Speyer buys, he recently explained to me, is manufactured by domestic suppliers, including Nucor. This year, Nucor posted second-quarter profits twice as large as those it made during the same period in 2017—and 2017 had already been a great year for the steel business. Trump’s tariffs on imported steel are helping Nucor and others keep their prices high: a boon for steelmakers but a major concern for steel consumers like Tennsco. Steel usually accounts for a third of Tennsco’s manufacturing costs—though, for some products, it’s closer to half. Last year, Speyer said, he bought forty thousand tons of steel. “For every penny the price of steel goes up per pound, we pay eight hundred thousand dollars more for steel annually,” he told me. “And now we’re talking a fifteen-cent increase for hot roll and ten cents for cold roll”—the two types of steel he uses. “The cost we have to largely pass on is over ten million dollars. We can’t absorb it.”The letter that Speyer sent out in early July announced “a fairly substantial increase, a double-digit increase,” as Speyer described it to me, of the price of Tennsco’s products. But he also wanted his customers—many of whom he’s had for years—to understand the cause of his price increases, and what it would take for prices to come back down.
Parents raising concerns over the number of child cancer cases in Johnson County are now getting attention from local, state and federal officials following the release of environmental testing results. The results showed high levels of TCE, PCE and radon in some homes near two sites in Franklin raising concerns about environmental contamination, and are causing worry for some families about their own health.
Greenfield is the first city in Iowa to warn residents against drinking its water, fearing contamination from toxic blue-green algae. But it won't be the last, environmentalists say.Dozens of Iowa cities and towns rely on lakes, rivers and reservoirs at risk for cyanobacteria — or blue-green algae — to source their drinking water.Tests on Greenfield's water came back clean for toxins Wednesday, enabling officials to lift a bottled-water order.
Over just three days this week, they lost thousands of acres of wheat. “The thing you have to remember, this is our neighborhood,” she said. “It’s not a subdivision, you’re not close together. You don’t have close neighbors like you might in a city.”The amber wheat was on the cusp of harvest, and the Kortges said it looked like their best crop yet. Now they have barren land covered in a layer of smoldering, black ash.“There’s a huge economic loss, loss of history,” said Brad McManigal, Cynthia’s brother.He’s spent much of this week fighting fire alongside his friends and neighbors. Some have lost barns, their livestock, and homesteads that have been here for hundreds of years.“Every single neighbor lost something in this fire,” said Cynthia Kortge. “Every single one.”Few families have lost as much as the Kortges. Their relative, John Ruby, died in the fire trying to protect the farm land that means so much to life in this part of the state.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is hoping to help rural areas of the state through an executive order. Reynolds signed the order Wednesday that creates the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, according to a release. They say the initiative will identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes through a partnership with the Iowa Rural Development Council. with co-chairs Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg and Sandy Ehrig of the Iowa Rural Development Council.
Rural households across the United States spend a disproportionately high share of their income on energy bills — about 40 percent more than their metropolitan counterparts, according to a new report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and the Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) coalition. The problem is most glaring in the East and Southeast, and among low-income households across all regions. Overall, rural households have a median energy burden — the percentage of a household’s income spent on home energy bills for needs such as air conditioning, heating, lighting, appliances, and cooking — of 4.4 percent, which is one-third higher than the national burden. Those with low incomes have a median energy burden of 9 percent, which is almost three times that of higher-income counterparts. In several rural regions, this burden exceeds 15 percent for one of every four low-income households.
In cities we know how to keep houses from burning. We have to relearn that in areas where human developments mingle with forests. It will need to be a local task, not just a federal one. So far, the 2018 fire season has produced a handful of big fires in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado; conflagrations in Oklahoma and Kansas; and a fire bust in Alaska, along with garden-variety wildfires from Florida to Oregon. Some of those fires are in rural areas, some are in wildlands, and a few are in exurbs. Every major fire rekindles another round of commentaries about “America’s wildfire problem.” But the fact is that our nation does not have a fire problem. It has many fire problems, and they require different strategies. Some problem fires have technical solutions, some demand cultural calls. All are political.
When Massachusetts and Kentucky residents from politically polar-opposite regions met, it was “love at first sight.” Led by Paula Green, who has led “conflict transformation” efforts for decades in Bosnia, Rwanda and other trouble spots around the world, Hands Across the Hills has included more than a dozen hours of direct dialogue — last October in Leverett and then in April in Whitesburg, Ky. The exchange included home stays with participants and a “show and tell” of the cultural treasures of each group — like a visit to a Hazard County coal mine and a bakery to rehabilitate former inmates in the community. The dialogues, deeply personal and direct, featured one Kentucky woman’s emotional sharing regret over an abortion she’d experienced and stories of family members who’d died in mining accidents, while some Leverett members recounted stories of relatives who had died in or fled the European Holocaust — the first immigrant stories some Kentucky guests had encountered. There were also stark differences, such as those over guns, and, of course, disagreements about Trump.
“I had always said if there’s a woman who runs for president, I don’t care who she is, I’m voting for her,” said one Letcher County woman. But Hillary Clinton “shot herself in the foot” with her comment on the campaign trail promising to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” What seemed to matter more, though, were bonds over the opioid crisis in both regions, over the hopelessness among young people and the future of a nation where even observable facts themselves are contested.