Monday Roundup: What’s Rural?

House to hold hearing on broadband stimulus • Ranching infrastructure — feedlots and packing houses — dissolving • Fracking pollution

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What’s rural?

Everybody has a definition and it’s fun to talk about. But the federal government has programs that distribute money to “rural” communities. So there are definitions of “rural” that matter.

Late Friday, the USDA released a “Report On The Definition of ‘Rural.'” You can find it here

The report is meant to help redefine rural for the government’s rural development program. The Daily Yonder awaits a fuller explanation of what the USDA’s definition would mean. From our cursory reading, however, we can see that the agency is recommending that its rural development program accept applications from “anywhere with a total population of less than 50,000….” 

This would expand the number of communities considered “rural” for rural development funding. The USDA realizes the downside of this expansion:

Critics of this approach may suggest that the change would move the focus of some programs away from serving the most rural communities. Furthermore, some may say that the most programs are already oversubscribed, so by broadening eligibility, those communities that are currently eligible would be less likely to receive RD program support. 

The recommendation goes on to say that the USDA should have the discretion to “serve the areas of greatest need and where the resources can make the greatest economic impact.”

This scheme would put communities in competition, with a “scoring” mechanism to determine grant winners.

Rural Teen Pregnancy — The teen birth rate in rural counties is considerably higher than in the rest of the country, a new report finds. 

In 2010, the teen birth rate in rural county was almost one-third higher compared to metropolitan counties. This was true regardless of age, race or ethnicity.

Between 1990 and 2010, the birth rate among rural teens declined by 32%, which was far slower than the decline in major metros (down by 49%) or in the suburbs (down 40%). The report was prepared by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report concludes:

Although in many ways teens across the country are more similar than they are different, teens in rural areas also face unique challenges. There are many factors that may account for the significant and growing disparity in teen birth rates across the rural/urban continuum, including differences in economic wellbeing and opportunity, service availability, and more. 

Buckle Up, Virginia — Rural Virginians are less likely to wear seat belts than are drivers in other parts of the state. 

The Roanoke Times found that in 2011, 76 percent of travelers used seat belts in rural Virginia compared to 82 percent statewide.

Only 60 percent of those driving pickups in rural Virginia wore seat belts.

Cattle and Drought — The AP reports that years of drought “are reshaping the U.S. beef industry with feedlots and a major meatpacking plant closing because there are too few cattle left in the United States to support them.” 

Ranching infrastructure is simply being dismantled. Feedlots are being taken apart while others are sitting empty. And nobody expects a turnaround quickly: the drought continues, herds are diminishing and feed prices are still high.

This is really quite a story because of the ripple effects of this decline. As herds get smaller and feedlots close, meatpackers are shutting down. Business slows, people are laid off and towns suffer.

“Most of the bad news is in Texas,” said Dick Bretz, an Amarillo broker who specializes in selling feed yards and other agribusinesses. “That is where I see most of the empty yards, that is where I see most of the interest in selling yards and where I see the least interest in buying yards.”

Dozens of feedlots are closed, dismantled or simply idle. Cargill Beef closed its meatpacking plant in Plainview, Texas, laying off 2,000 people.

Digital Gap Persists — “Federal stimulus programs that devoted $7.2 billion to bringing high-speed Internet access to rural communities have left some areas without access and others complaining they have too much,” reports the Wall Street Journal. 

The WSJ says the Federal Communication Commission finds that 19 million Americans (6 percent of the population) lack high speed access, down from 26 million a year ago. Federal funding has helped pay for 86,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, linking 12,000 town hubs, schools, hospitals and libraries. 

A House subcommittee will hold a hearing later this week titled “Is the Broadband Stimulus Working?”

Fracking and Air Pollution — Bloomberg reports that the EPA will study more closely air emissions from hydraulic fracturing. The agency said existing information wasn’t sufficient to make policy decisions. 

In the fracking process (where water, chemicals and sand are shot underground to loosen trapped gas and oil), methane is leaked. Methane is a greenhouse gas.

 

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