Roundup: Birth of the USDA Market News

The USDA Market News at 100 •  H.I.V. outbreak in rural Indiana • Rural Kentucky hospitals in trouble • Easing environmental ag laws in Minnesota? • Father and daughter revitalize a peach farm

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In 1915 the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service sent a telegram listing the price of strawberries in Hammond, Louisiana. With those dots and dashes began the USDA Market News. The service provides “free, unbiased price and sales information to assist in the marketing and distribution of farm commodities,” according to the agency.

One hundred years later, there’s a lot more than strawberries in those reports. AMS issues thousands of reports a year listing retail and wholesale market prices of commodities, along with shipping data. Meat, vegetables, fruit – you name it.

More recently, Market News has gotten back to tracking smaller scale market segments like grass-fed beef and even some farmers markets. For example, AMS reports that today strawberries at the Raleigh, North Carolina, farmers market will run you from $21.45 to $26.45 for an flat of eight, one quart containers.

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Indiana governor Mike Pence recently declared a public health emergency in Scott County due to an outbreak of HIV. More than 80 people in the county have tested positive this year alone. An increase in drug use (the county sits on a major drug-running corridor,I-65) is blamed for the outbreak. Austin, a town in Scott County, is setting up a free specialty clinic to combat the problem, but health workers still worry.  The New York Times reports:

“I really, truly don’t know what to expect,” an exhausted [nurse Jeanni] McCarty said after distributing the fliers. “Even if only a couple come, that’s more than we had before and then maybe they can talk others into it.” Several worried people asked for HIV tests on the spot.

The outbreak here was detected because Indiana requires newly confirmed cases of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, to be reported to state health officials. It is jolting not only because national rates of H.I.V. diagnosis have remained stable or even decreased in recent years, but because the virus is a largely urban problem. Only about 6 percent of new diagnoses in 2013 were in counties with fewer than 50,000 people, according to the CDC.

An editorial in the Huffington Post draws a line from the 2013 closing of Scott County’s Planned Parenthood clinic, one that did not perform abortions but did offer HIV testing, to the recent emergency.

Indiana's GOP-led state legislature was one of the first to declare war against Planned Parenthood in 2011, when it passed a bill that defunded the family planning provider because some of its clinics offer abortion services. A federal judge later blocked that law from going into effect, but the state has continued to slash various sources of funding to Planned Parenthood at a time when the cost of operating a medical facility continues to rise.

In 2005, Planned Parenthood of Indiana received a total of $3.3 million in funding from government contracts and grants. By 2014, that funding had dropped to $1.9 million. Five of Planned Parenthood’s smaller clinics in the state — the health centers in Scottsburg, Madison, Richmond, Bedford and Warsaw — were unable to keep up with the growing technology costs that were necessary to remain competitive as a medical provider. All five clinics that were forced to close had offered HIV testing. None had offered abortions.

Even without five of its clinics, Planned Parenthood's HIV testing in Indiana has been increasing each year. Overall, the provider's 25 remaining clinics in Kentucky and Indiana gave more than 8,000 HIV tests in 2014, about 1,000 more than the previous year. And the numbers would certainly be higher if the five shuttered clinics in Indiana had been able to continue to operate.

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In more depressing health news, an audit of rural hospitals in Kentucky shows that one third of the institutions are in financial trouble and may have to close.

The findings cause concern about adequate access to care at a time when hundreds of thousands more Kentuckians newly covered under Medicaid need services, according to the report.

"If we don't make sure our provider network, particularly a network that is built around rural hospitals, is solvent, it really means that that insurance card doesn't mean much when you don't have people there to provide that care," [auditor Adam]Edelen said at a news conference.

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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is teaming up with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky to explore the stories behind county health statistics. Usually, such a project would be examining how things got so bad in parts of Appalachia. This time around, they’re searching for the story of how things got so good.

The project will examine counties that are having a tough time economically but are doing better than average in community health. The hope, writes David Krol at Robert Wood Johnson, is that they will learn “why these bright spots in the region have positive health outcomes despite economic hardship and lack of resources.” In turn, that information might help other communities make progress on health issues, he says.

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Members of the Minnesota House of Representatives are looking to weaken environmental laws, like one requiring farmers to leave a 50-foot unplanted “buffer zone” around rivers, in an effort to help the agribusiness industry, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Other regulation relaxations proposed by the House include exempting farmland from having to pay some school levies and one touching on pesticide regulations. There's also a bill that would “make it tougher for homeowners to file nuisance lawsuits against livestock producers.”

Not everyone supports the changes.

"Legislators down in the southwest corner which is the prime area for this study where rivers and streams are being fouled up by all of this water and excess that's pouring into them and the legislators there are going to keep their heads buried in the sand and do nothing about it," [Minnesota governor Mark] Dayton said. "At some point you have to say are you here to protect the public or are you here to protect a few other folks."

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Finally, we’ll leave you on a much more upbeat note. NPR takes a look at a farmer who reclaimed and revitalized a peach orchard in California’s Central Valley and his daughter who chose to come back to the farm after college.

Mas Masumoto was growing a peach varietal in the 1980s that big buyers no longer wanted. Before tearing out the trees and planting prettier, more popular peaches, he wrote an essay extolling the virtues of his old peach and the painful decision process of starting over. That piece, published in the Los Angeles Times, caught the attention of the blooming “food world,” including slow food pioneer Alice Waters, who started serving his peaches in her restaurant.

Now his oldest daughter, Nikiko, is poised to one day take over the farm. After leaving the farm for college, and again for graduate school, she came back the day her grandfather, who purchased the place after leaving an internment camp after World War II, died.

"I flew home from Texas, and my plane landed early," she says, with a catch in her throat. "My mom picked me up, and I went home to our house, which is now my house, and he passed away in our living room, in the farm house."

Nikiko Masumoto thought about her grandfather's choice, in difficult circumstances, to settle here. "I mean, that strength, and his power to claim this place in America, in a country that had just very clearly told him and all of us that we don't belong. For him to stake a place here, it's almost a legacy that I can't turn away from. I have to be here."

Nikiko Masumoto moved into the old farmhouse where her grandparents had lived. That was four years ago.

 

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