Roundup: Fighting Right-to-Farm Bills

Right-to-farm bills may be misleading • Explaining a 116% default rate • Rural teenage girls more likely to have asthma and depression • Flipping the corporate farm trend? • Insurance coverage areas can be unfair to rural • Investing in cage-free eggs • Rural is complex

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“Right-to-farm” initiatives are in the news this week. In Indiana, the state Senate turned down a proposal that would have put right-to-farm language into the state’s constitution. The measure’s sponsor, Senator Brent Steele (R), said it would have protected farmers and ranchers from interference with their “way of life.”

Kim Ferraro of the Hoosier Environmental Council the measure didn’t protect farmers from anything. Rather, the constitutional amendment would have protected a handful of industrial agricultural operations.

In Missouri, opponents of a right-to-farm amendment that passed narrowly in November argued before the state Supreme Court that the amendment should be voided because it contains misleading language. The Missourian reports:

Anthony DeWitt, the attorney arguing against the farming amendment, said Amendment 1's summary told half-truths. The summary purported to protect all Missouri citizens, but it only covers farmers and ranchers — a murky distinction, as the courts haven't defined what makes someone a farmer or rancher. Not all citizens are farmers, he said, nor are all farmers Missouri citizens, as foreign corporations can claim protection under Amendment 1

The state’s solicitor general, who is defending the amendment on the state’s behalf, said the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter. He said that state law allowed the courts to review constitutional amendment language for two weeks in June and that the court couldn’t consider the amendment language after the fact.

Disclosure: One of the plaintiff’s in the Missouri lawsuit opposing the right-to-farm amendment is Richard Oswald, president of the Missouri Farmers Union and a columnist for the Daily Yonder.

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According to the annual White House budget proposal, the default rate for Broadband Treasury Rate Loans is 116%. How does a default rate climb above 100%? The answer is neither “magic” nor reassuring. Politico takes a deeper look.

The explanation I eventually got from the Obama administration was not that damning. But it wasn’t exactly comforting, either. The crazy number was apparently produced by flawed execution of a flawed model of a flawed program. In reality, the Agriculture Department expects to recover about 80 cents of every dollar it lends to telecoms to extend high-speed Internet to underserved rural areas. Administration officials couldn’t pinpoint the actual default rate, but it’s much lower than 116%. They say the main culprits for that wrong number were a radically overbroad definition of “default,” as well as some inappropriate double-counting.

Basically, it’s complicated, which is true of all federal credit programs—which is a problem with federal credit programs.

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A recently released study by the Medical College of Georgia finds that teenage girls in rural areas are more likely than teen boys to have undiagnosed asthma and depression, according to a story by Medical Daily.

“There’s a lot of speculation about why females are more likely to be undiagnosed [for asthma],” Dr. Jeana Bush, an Allergy and Immunology Fellow at Medical College of Georgia and the lead author of the study, said in the press release. “Maybe it’s because boys are more likely to get a sports physical for athletics and they catch it then. Or maybe it’s because girls attribute asthma symptoms to something else, like anxiety. That needs further study.”

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Omaha attorney Dave Domina gave a speech to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East where he said that reversing trend of losing small farms to the consolidation trend will require “creating laws to protect farmers and ranchers or upsetting the status quo enough through the courts system that public policy has to respond.”

Nebraska lost about 500 farms and ranches in 2014, falling to 49,100, according to an annual report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The small farm category, those with annual sales of less than $100,000, fell by 800 farms while larger farms, exceeding $100,000 in sales, increased by 300.

“We don’t have a producer in Nebraska, we don’t have 10 producers in Nebraska collectively who are big enough to negotiate against that company for different contract terms," Domina said. "We couldn’t take our top 100 producers and have them band together to negotiate for different terms against this company.”

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The way states define Affordable Care Act coverage areas can put rural in a tough spot, according to a new paper from the Standford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Some states group the rural areas around major cities into one coverage area, which gives the rural residents access to the same insurance companies that serve the larger market. Other states, however, separate rural and urban when defining coverage areas. Many insurance providers would rather chase the big fish of high-density areas than the small, outlying towns. Then there are the states that combine the two approaches.

[Paper author Michael J.] Dickstein compared the healthcare fates of two rural areas in Tennessee, one a rural area outside of Memphis that the state included in the Memphis coverage area, the other a rural area outside of Nashville that the state did not include in the Nashville coverage area. He found that only one insurer decided to serve the rural region outside of Nashville, and residents of that region faced benchmark premiums that were seven percent higher than the premium costs of residents in the Memphis rural area. It may be that insurers are avoiding small markets and markets with pockets of poverty. That certainly covers a lot of rural America.

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A cage-free egg operation in Northern Iowa has received investment money from the Advantage Capital Agribusiness Fund to buy and retrofit older egg production facilities into cage-free operations

“This is a new and innovative approach to encourage private sector investment in rural America,” said Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “Matching private investors with small businesses in rural communities helps these companies get the capital they need to grow and create jobs.”

 

 

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