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Hogwash: Farmers Fear Trump Trade Disputes Are Damaging Ag Markets

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Jimmy Tosh sells a lot of pigs. He is owner and CEO of Tosh Farms, Tosh Pork, and Bacon By Gosh, in Henry County, Tennessee, and has 84 contracted barns in the region where farmers grow pigs for his products.

On a recent July day, Tosh craned over some 1,200 piglets and reflected on how recent market disturbances have affected his business.

“These pigs in January were selling for the $75 to $80 dollar mark,” Tosh said. “Because of seasonality and the effect of the tariffs these pigs now are in the $16 to $18 dollar range.”

These little piggies will grow to be around 280 pounds before they head to the market. But with 25 percent of his pork products depending on export markets, the growing trade war between the U.S. and China could have Tosh looking to find the pigs new homes.

With hog prices dropping, will these little piggies go to market?
Photo credit Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley Resource.

“China is our fourth largest market by value, it’s our third by tonnage,” he said. “They take a lot of the pork that we do not consume in this country; the heads, the feet, livers and stuff. That market has gone from a thousand metric tons three months ago to zero last month.”

Other tariffs are also having an effect. As with any successful business, Tosh has plans to expand with a new unit that would produce about 225,000 pigs a year. He needs another 40 barns to do that. With the steel and aluminum tariffs in place, the extra costs for metals used in construction will increase his costs by $15,000 and $17,000 for each new barn.

“Whether we build another unit after that really depends on the market conditions we are in,” Tosh explained. “The tariffs, the amount of hogs, and mainly are we going to be profitable or are we going to lose money?”

This week the administration moved to impose tariffs on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese products on top of the $34 billion in goods already targeted for import taxes. China has already retaliated against that earlier round of tariffs, and other trading partners from the E.U. to the Americas have all put U.S. agricultural products in the crosshairs again.

The National Pork Producers Council reports that U.S. producers face punitive tariffs on 40 percent of total American pork exports to China and Mexico, and hog, corn and soybean farmers all fear they could be losing major customers for their exports.

Farm country is closely aligned with Trump country. But as the Trump administration escalates its trade dispute with China, farmers are among the first to feel the pain.

Soy Price Plunge

The situation is just as dire for U.S. soybean farmers who are losing contracts with China.

In far west Kentucky, corn and soybean farmer Jacob Goodman has just checked the afternoon market prices.

Soybean farmer Jacob Goodman watches prices for his crop drop
Photo credit Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley Resource.

“Here is our electronic grains overview,” he said, tapping at a keyboard. Soybeans that had been trading at more than $10 at the beginning of the month were now down to under $9.

“That is the price per bushel and when you are looking at thousands of bushels, gosh, at 60 or more an acre, that price adds up very quickly,”  Goodman said.

Soybeans are the top agriculture export for the U.S. and China is the top buyer. The commodity’s price dropped to a 10-year low after China announced its retaliatory efforts. In 2017 more than half of the soybeans grown in the Ohio Valley and the U.S. went to China. Goodman said farmers are already dealing with a near 50 percent loss in profit over the last few years.

“When you go and start picking fights with people that buy your products, that adds a whole ‘nother level to it,” Goodman said.

Countries responding to tariffs implemented by President Trump have said they will retaliate by hitting his base of supporters hardest, farm country. That carries a cruel irony for Goodman. He said he is a blue dot in a sea of red.

“I would definitely say that I am kind of the black sheep in the area because I didn’t vote Trump,” he said.

“Whenever we start to threaten other countries with withholding grain or something like that they just turn around and buy from somebody else,” Goodman said. “A soybean in Kentucky is the same as a soybean in Brazil.”

‘Domino Effect’

The President’s attempt to bring down the U.S. trade deficit has instead increased tension with trading partners, according to David Laborde with International Food Policy Research Institute.

Goodman’s family farms 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Fulton Co., KY. Photo credit Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley Resource.

“This is why policy makers are very careful not to play short-term games because there is long-term cost,” Laborde said.

Laborde said there is now a “big premium” for Brazilian soybeans and it is forcing U.S. farmers to have to sell for less in order to compensate for tariff effects.

“We are going to see countries like China aim to diversify their supply chain and start to do new investments or build new trade relations with other countries around the world,” Laborde said. “You know you create a distortion, you create a conflict and policies and markets are going to react all over the world and with a very different pattern of production at the end.”

He said U.S. farmers are simply not in position to absorb these prices with the consecutive annual losses in farm income. “We are in a place where people can go bankrupt if the low prices remain,” he said.

When soybeans became the number one export commodity, many farmers prepared for an increase in demand by buying more land and seed. Those farmers will be the ones with the most to lose in the market distortions brought on by a trade dispute, according to Laborde.

“In the end someone still has to pay for this,” Laborde explained. “So it means that insurance premiums will have to go up and because [the U.S.] is heavily subsidized, the government will have to find money to compensate the insurance to pay the subsidies of the insurance schemes.”

Goodman’s family farms 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Fulton Co., KY. Photo credit Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley Resource.

Bargaining Power

Laborde said that all the trade decisions are now coming from the executive branch of government.

“I think there is a lot of bargaining power from Congress that is not used, so maybe they don’t want to enter into a conflict before the midterm election,” Laborde said. “Just two months of this kind of trade war activity can move investors in another direction for two decades.”

But it is not yet clear if the trade troubles will move the President’s base of support.

Farm groups have kept a soft tone as Trump has pushed for new deals, including his attempts at renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Eddie Melton, an official with the Kentucky Farm Bureau, reflects the majority of farmers in the Ohio Valley who view the President’s actions as necessary.

“There have always been challenges in agriculture–always,” Melton said. “But through challenges we always find opportunities and I hope we can find opportunities again.”

Melton is hopeful. He said if China isn’t willing to move in the direction the President wishes, maybe India will.

“I think this gives us an opportunity to expand markets,” Melton said. “I really do.”

Hog farmer Jimmy Tosh is not so sure. “I don’t support his tariff position. I have always been a free trader,” he said. “I’ve been Republican my whole life but I do have concerns right now,” Tosh said.

This article was originally published by Ohio Valley Resource.

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Rural’s Connection to Environment Means Bigger Climate-Change Impact

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Mainstays of rural American culture and economy – such as timber, agriculture, tourism, ranching, hunting, fishing, winter sports – could see major disruptions from climate change. The impact will be big enough to disrupt the national economy, a federal report says.

Rural communities face clear economic and environmental risks from a changing climate, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment.  

The report documents changes in the timing of seasons, temperature fluctuations, increased incidence of extreme weather and change in rainfall – all patterns with the potential disrupt rural economic activities.  

Climate change in rural communities poses an outsized risk to the national economy, the report says. 

Although the majority of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, most of the country is still classified as rural. In this map, counties are classified as rural if they do not include any cities with populations of 50,000 or more. (Figure source: USDA Economic Research Service).

“Rural America’s importance to the country’s economic and social well-being is disproportionate to its population, as rural areas provide natural resources that much of the rest of the United States depends on for food, energy, water, forests, recreation, national character, and quality of life,” the report stated.  

While not all regions face the same impacts due to increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, the assessment explains how increased volumes of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will lead to changing climatic patterns. The report’s authors predict that changes will likely increase volatility in agricultural commodity markets, shift plant and animal ranges, increase the number and intensity of droughts and floods, and increase the number and size of wildfires throughout the rural landscape.  

Tourism is often climate-dependent as well as seasonally dependent. Increasing heat and humidity – projected for summers in the Midwest, Southeast, and parts of the Southwest by mid-century (compared to the period 1961-1990) – is likely to create unfavorable conditions for summertime outdoor recreation and tourism activity. The figures illustrate projected changes in climatic attractiveness (based on maximum daily temperature and minimum daily relative humidity, average daily temperature and relative humidity, precipitation, sunshine, and wind speed) in July for much of North America. In the coming century, the distribution of these conditions is projected to shift from acceptable to unfavorable across most of the southern Midwest and a portion of the Southeast, and from very good or good to acceptable conditions in northern portions of the Midwest, under a high emissions scenario. (Source: National Climate Assessment).

For portions of rural America with an economy based on agriculture, climate scientists are most worried about shifting geographic suitability of particular crops and abnormal timing for planting and harvest. These changes may result in additional use of herbicides and pesticides, which could create additional health risks from chemical applications. Crop and pasture yields and profitability could also be affected by changes in rainfall, temperature and extreme weather events. Increased flooding could increase soil erosion and water pollution from agricultural runoff, according to the report.  

Rural communities with an economy based on recreation and tourism also face significant challenges due to climate change, according to the report. Rising seas could damage rural Florida’s multi-billion dollar recreational fishing sector and cause further ecological damage to the Everglades region.  

Coastal erosion and rising oceans throughout the nation could affect wildlife habitat, disrupting hunting, fishing, bird watching, and other wildlife-related activities. 

Rural places with significant winter recreation activities could face risks as snow-pack is expected to decrease.  

Forest-dependent rural communities are likely to face significant change as well. Forest geographies and species composition are likely to shift as the climate changes. The number of pests and disease will increase. These factors could decrease timber and pulp harvests in some places. Forest fires are also expected to continue to increase in number, intensity and cost.  

The report identifies certain demographic trends in rural communities that make climate change adaptation more difficult.  

“Modern rural populations are generally older, less affluent, and less educated than their urban counterparts. Rural areas are characterized by higher unemployment, more dependence on government transfer payments, less diversified economies, and fewer social and economic resources needed for resilience in the face of major changes,” the report states. That combination of an aging population with higher poverty rates increases vulnerability of rural people and places to changes in climate.  

“Emergency management, energy use and distribution systems, transportation and infrastructure planning, and public health will all be affected,” the study states. State, regional, local and tribal governments in rural communities tend to be under-funded and rely heavily on volunteers.  

“Even in communities where there is increasing awareness of climate change and interest in comprehensive adaptation planning, lack of funding, human resources, access to information, training, and expertise provide significant barriers for many rural communities,” the report concludes. 

This report is the fourth National Climate Assessment, and summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States. The report process was established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and mandates that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) deliver a report to Congress and the president no less than every four years.  

A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee developed the report. Scientists and researchers from federal, state and local governments, tribes and Indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector volunteered their time to produce the assessment. Information was gathered through a series of regional engagement workshops that reached more than 1,000 individuals in over 40 cities. Listening sessions, webinars and public comment periods also provided valuable input.  

This article was originally published by Daily Yonder.

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Appalachia

When Losing 14 to 1 is a Win — Sort Of

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Matthew Ferrence is a writer and college professor who ran a 14-day write-in campaign against an unopposed Pennsylvania state legislator. He got clobbered but finds something positive in the results. Photo: submitted by the author
A last-minute write-in campaign against an unopposed Pennsylvania state representative yielded 900 official votes. It wasn’t nearly enough to win, but it was enough to show that there’s more to Appalachia than the average TV pundit claims.
Well, I didn’t win. Let’s get that out of the way.But on the night of November 6th, 2018, after launching a last-minute zero-budget Green Party write-in campaign against an unopposed Republican incumbent, in a Pennsylvania district that perpetually votes at about a 70 percent clip for even Republicans who get absolutely blasted in statewide races (see: gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, soundly defeated by Tom Wolfe), I wound up making a nearly 5 percent dent.

The how isn’t quite as important as they why, I think, but in brief: exactly two weeks before the election, I announced on Facebook my intention to mount a write-in campaign for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, disgusted that for the fourth time in seven elections, the local incumbent — Brad Roae — faced literally no competition. Nobody squared off against him in the Republican primary and nobody ran on the Democratic ticket. In fact, only twice in his tenure has he faced opposition from Democrats, each of them throttled to the tune of 60-40 or thereabouts in the general election.

As an even sorrier indication of the state of political engagement in the rural part of Northwestern Pennsylvania where I live, only once has a Republican ever challenged him in a primary. It’s smooth sailing every two years, which leads to a tepid, basic and uninspiring legislative track record. Taxes are bad, he says. And, oh, let’s have some laws to weaken environmental protections for gas well drilling. He has made public media posts that appear to equate school boards to Hitler, and he has argued that state funding shouldn’t support students who major in “poetry or some other pre-Walmart major.”

Yeah, that’s who I lost to, my 900 votes or so to his 13,000. And that’s the guy who has gone to Harrisburg for more than a decade representing my home. Among the many things that gall me about his incumbency is the way that, outside of Appalachia, a lot of people would probably nod their heads and say, yup. Brad Roae is the kind of representative people think Appalachia embraces, is the kind of person so many non-Appalachians see as purely representative of who we are and what we stand for.

But here’s the thing. I’m finding hope in my two weeks as a candidate, and in the sudden flurry of interest and support. I ran because there had to be some opposition for democracy to have any chance at all, and when I did so I hoped I’d get 1 or 2 percent, not embarrass myself, shoot for the bar of 300 votes. That would be the same number of votes I would have needed as signatures to get on the ballot had I, say, planned ahead.

Then a funny thing happened. I started making videos introducing myself and my ideas, and put together a platform paper, and people started sharing these materials on Facebook, and I had to work through the anti-Russian Bot regulations the social media site now has so I could finally “boost” two of those posts on the morning of the election, and even before all that the organic sharing of an electorate dying for something, anything, that pushed against Appalachian political stereotypes meant 9,000 people had seen my stuff. Then, even though people had to first know I was running and then actually bother typing my name in, I fared okay. I earned about 65 votes for each day of my campaign. And I spent $50 on stickers, $20 on my Facebook ads.

Brad Roae poses in the Pennsylvania House chamber with Pennsylvania dairy princess LeeAnn Kapanick. Roae has represented the 6th House district since 2007. The district covers parts of Crawford and Erie counties in the state’s northwest corner. Photo: Pennsylvania State Legislature webpage

Official county returns compiled right before Thanksgiving gave me 851 votes. The Monday following, I reviewed the official computations and found another 60+, if I include misspellings like Matt Terrance and, Michael Ferrence, and Matthew Fetterman (for a voter who maybe confused me with our Democratic Lt. Governor candidate John Fetterman), and That Guy Whose Name Starts With F, as well as The Guy on Facebook Ask (name redacted), as well as a litany of close-but-no-cigar last names coupled with Matt or Matthew: Ferrer, Ferraro, Fetter, Farreah, Ferrenc, Ferrous, Ferris, Ferentz, Ferrick, and DeFerence. I got 14 votes in neighboring state districts, and four votes for the U.S. House Race. Among other write-ins, I beat a slew of names that received a single vote or a handful, tough competitors like Brad Roae (who a few people wrote in, even though he was on the ballot), Stephen Colbert, Anyone But Him, Anyone Else, Jesus, God, and Red Breasted Nuthatch.

Look, my day job is writing and teaching. I’m a professor at a small liberal arts college, chair of the Department of English, writer and teacher of creative nonfiction. I was born in southwestern Pennsylvania, among the played out coal fields and strip mines an hour east of Pittsburgh. I earned a Ph.D. at West Virginia University, where I specialized in Appalachian literature. I wrote a memoir about my brain tumor, and the geology of the Allegheny Plateau, and the curious exile of inhabiting the weird position of Northern Appalachian, which means you’re not quite normal American and not quite Appalachian. None of that adds up to politician, but all of it adds up to frustration. I’ve spent most of my life, other than brief adult stints in Arizona and France, living in a region that skews way right, even as that right continues to exploit and degrade the people and place. All Appalachia ever has been allowed to be is exploited. That’s it. And that’s all the rhetoric of the GOP offers, when you boil it down. Let’s Make America Great Again, like when black lung wrecked lives on the regular and, newsflash, is now roaring back to life since the unions have been busted, and the economy of the region stayed busted, so the people crawled down into mines without the protections hard fought with blood and love by the striking workers of Blair Mountain, and the striking workers of Pittsburgh steel, and the striking auto workers of the Rust Belt.

Ferrence knocked on some doors and created a Facebook page to promote his campaign. He did several short videos to explain why he ran and discuss issues. Photo: Matthew Ferrence for PA House, District 6 Facebook page

Public historian Elizabeth Catte gets it right (she’s the author of “What You’re Getting Wrong about Appalachia”) when she argues that Appalachians have been socialists all along. They just don’t know it. They gathered together. They fought the power of industrial dominion. They powered America with their coal, yes, but they also fueled the national movement for respect and dignity for labor. Then the GOP figured out how to weaponize hatred and fear, and there you go. You get Joe Manchin, alleged Democrat. And you get a region that votes more than 2/3 for Trump and Trump-esque troglodytes like Pennsylvania’s GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, who claims that global warming is probably just accumulated body heat from a larger human population or happens because the earth is getting closer to the sun, and campaigns by saying he’ll dance on the governor’s face while wearing golf spikes.

It boils down to this: I am so tired of waking up on November Wednesdays in Appalachia, seeing election results and, worse, national punditry that says this is all we are and all we’ll ever be. The election map of my state is bright red, other than around a few urban centers, just like most of Appalachia. That seems to translate to the same conclusion we get over and over and over again: dumb hillbillies voting for the worst. That conclusion seems to be supported by the simple math of our state politics, where more than half of state legislators run unopposed in their general elections, and our incumbency rate is about 90 percent. Few candidates ever put up a fight to change that.

So what’s an Appalachian creative writing professor to do? You run a last-ditch campaign. You tilt against the windmills in a manner that is both impotent (because you get crushed at the polls) and, at least for me, hopeful. Because having a choice, any choice, other than the incumbent mattered to the 2,000 people who either voted for me or tossed in a symbolic protest write-in. Because people stopped me when I walked by, and messaged me on Facebook, and were angry when they learned about the campaign only after they voted because, damn it, they couldn’t vote for the incumbent, and leaving it blank is just what the GOP has wanted for so long. The story of Appalachian politics has been about that blankness, a cultivation of the sense — and you can read this in almost every national outlet at some point in the last two years, usually with a quote from that faux-Appalachian pseudo-pundit J.D. Vance — that there’s nothing but right-wing fools in these hills and hollers. Appalachia is given up for dead again, this time just as a tarnished example of the hatred and backwardness of politics in this strange, strange land.

That’s just not how it is. That’s not the Appalachia I know nor the one I saw in my brief campaign. Heck, I ran this mini-campaign focused specifically on lefty sustainability, as in ecology and tree-hugging, as well as economies that stop repeating the boom-bust cycles of our past, and I drew a mighty good swipe of votes all at once, in the end. There are a lot of people in my county who believe in the value of the environment, and the necessity of fine educations, and the rightness of universal healthcare, and the imperative of social justice, and the glory of love in all its forms. There are progressives in these hills, you know. And a lot of them, but also a lot who hear those same old stories and worry about what the neighbors will think, so they don’t vote, or accept the inevitability of political monoculture. Thus the slam happens again. And again. And again. Unopposed Republican. Platforms of no taxes. Tacit acceptance of the Confederate Battle Flags that flutter on too many once-Union farmhouses.

Yeah, I got creamed. But I think we also won something that night. And we’ll keep coming back for more, riding a blue wave tinged with green, fighting for a change in the rural center of America that so many figure is lost forever. You know the joke, about Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and a lot of Alabama in between. Well, Alabama has a Democratic Senator, and so does Pennsylvania. We can do more, do better, push against the dogged stupidity of a right-wing cultural war that makes us all weaker and worse off. We can step into these races, and we can square off and say, hit me, and we can get hit, and eventually we can win. I know I’ll give it another shot – with my name printed on the ballot next time. I’ll need at least a couple of months next time, to get enough votes to be competitive, if history holds. But I’ll vow, and I hope others will too, that no one gets to run unopposed anymore. No one gets to spit out tired political bullshit and not get called out. This is our Appalachia too.

This article was originally published by the Daily Yonder

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Appalachia

There’s a Tool that Claims to Predict Potential for Criminal Behavior. Should PA Judges Use It?

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Allegheny County Courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo: Connor Mulvaney/PublicSource

The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing is considering a “risk assessment” tool, which, according to social justice activists, would reinforce existing bias in the criminal justice system. But the tool’s designers say it would give judges more data to base sentencing decisions on as opposed to primarily relying on uniform guidelines.

The commission is hearing public feedback about the risk assessment tool on Thursday, Dec. 13, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Allegheny County Courthouse (436 Grant St., Pittsburgh).

How would the “risk assessment” tool work? Say you’re facing a criminal charge. In addition to the usual information about your present and past — as in the crime for which you are on trial and your prior record, if any — the judge also has a report trying to predict your future. On a scale from 0 to 18 points, an algorithm has indicated how likely you are to reoffend, based on data about recidivism rates.

Read more about how the risk assessment tool is used to calculate sentences from PublicSource.

This story was originally published by PublicSource based in Pittsburgh.

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