Rural America

Thursday, Feb 20, 2020, 12:04 pm  ·  By Joel Berger and Jon Beckmann

Animals Large and Small Once Covered America’s Grasslands. Can We Save What’s Left of Their Habitat?

Bighorn sheep graze on grassland in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.   Photo by Joel Berger, CC BY-ND

In the grip of winter, the North American prairies can look deceptively barren. But many wild animals have evolved through harsh winters on these open grasslands, foraging in the snow and sheltering in dens from cold temperatures and biting winds.

Today most of our nation’s prairies are covered with the amber waves of grain that Katharine Lee Bates lauded in “America the Beautiful,” written in 1895. But scientists know surprisingly little about today’s remnant biodiversity in the grasslands – especially the status of what we call “big small mammals,” such as badgers, foxes, jackrabbits and porcupines.

Land conservation in the heartland has been underwhelming. According to most estimates, less than 4% of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem that once covered some 170 million acres of North America is left. And when native grasslands are altered, populations of endemic species like prairie dogs shrink dramatically.

Together, we have more than 60 years of experience using field-based, hypothesis-driven science to conserve wildlife in grassland systems in North America and across the globe. We have studied and protected species ranging from pronghorn and bison in North America to saiga and wild yak in Central Asia. If scientists can identify what has been lost and retained here in the U.S., farmers, ranchers and communities can make more informed choices about managing their lands and the species that depend upon them.


Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020, 9:47 am  ·  By Claire Hettinger and Pam Dempsey

Rural Farmers Face High Suicide Rates and Decreasing Access to Mental Health Care

Carle Foundation Hospital employees showcase virtual technology, which are being used to fill some of the mental health care gaps in rural areas.   Photo courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

With farmers facing increasing stress and depression, Midwestern states and national farm groups are making more efforts to better provide services to alleviate the high rate of suicide among the agriculture industry. 

Yet in rural areas, this care is more of a challenge.


Saturday, Feb 15, 2020, 4:37 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Dicamba on Trial: Jury Sides with Farmer in Lawsuit Against Monsanto

Bill Bader, owner of Bader Farms, and his wife Denise pose in front of the Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on Jan. 27, 2020.   Photo by Johnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 2:15 p.m. CST on Saturday, Feb. 15 after a federal jury ruled that Bayer and BASF would have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, in addition to the $15 million they were ordered on Friday to pay in actual damages. Read the earlier version here. This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, which has been convering the case. Read all the Midwest Center's reporting on the trial here.
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. - A federal jury determined that German agribusiness giants Bayer and BASF will have to pay $250 million in punitive damages to Bader Farms, the largest peach farm in Missouri, for damage caused by their dicamba-related products.

The verdict comes at the end of a three-week trial of a case where Bader Farms alleges it is going out of business because of damage incurred by the companies' dicamba herbicides moving off of neighboring fields and harming their 1,000 acres of peach orchards. 

On Friday, the jury ruled that both Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF acted negligently and Bader Farms should receive $15 million in actual damages for future losses incurred because of the loss of their orchard.

Bader Farms will receive a total of $265 million. BASF and Bayer will have to sort out what portion of the damages each company pays. 


Tuesday, Feb 11, 2020, 8:00 am  ·  By Stacey Schmader

Does Lake Erie Deserve Legal Rights? A Federal Court Hears Arguments

This photo shows a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie in September 2017. Such algae blooms are caused when excessive amounts of phosphorus are added to the water, often as runoff from fertilizer, according to a NASA study. The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is designed to protect the lake from such pollution.   Photo Credit: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslick/NOAA

Last week, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) was debated in federal court, where arguments were presented defending the right of Lake Erie to exist, flourish, and evolve, and residents’ right to clean water. The groundbreaking law was adopted by popular vote in Toledo one year ago, and immediately challenged by a purported agribusiness corporation.

The City of Toledo’s robust defense of LEBOR included arguments that no agriculture corporation has a constitutional right to pollute, and that the actions of Toledo residents are an emergency response to a heating planet.

"Industrial dumping and with some of the environmental issues and pollution caused by large scale agriculture," the city argued, "in combination with climate change, has put the citizens on notice that they feel that they are in an emergency situation as it relates to water quality and the need to protect their water, which is certainly a compelling and significant interest.”


Friday, Feb 7, 2020, 10:14 am  ·  By Mackenzie Feldman and John Ikerd

A Green New Deal Must Offer Farmers a Way to Transition to Regenerative Agriculture

Floodwaters surround a farm on March 22 near Craig, Mo. Many farmers in the Midwest were unable to plant crops last year because of the floods and Farm Aid’s hotline call volume increased 109% from 2017. Around 75% of the calls were because of natural disasters.   Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last year, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution to Congress calling for an ambitious re-imagining of the U.S. economy―one that would tackle both climate change and inequality.

Now with broad support among democratic presidential hopefuls, the Green New Deal resolution highlights the transformation of energy, transportation, health care and employment systems in our country, while briefly mentioning food and agriculture. 

We believe, however, that since agriculture is both a major contributor to climate change and one of the key solutions, it should be a major part of the Green New Deal. In a new report by Data for Progress, titled “Regenerative Farming and the Green New Deal,” we propose addressing climate change, and the economic hardship faced by small farmers, by providing a supportive transition from unhealthy soil practices to regenerative farming systems.


Sunday, Feb 2, 2020, 11:08 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Dicamba on Trial: Monsanto Decided to ‘Pull Back’ on Testing of Herbicide Prior to Roll Out

This photo shows the Rush Hudson Limbaugh Sr. United States Courthouse in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. The courthouse is hosting the trial of a lawsuit brought by a Missouri peach farmer, who alleges that Monsanto knowingly caused an "ecological disaster" to increase its profits.   Photo by Johnathan Hettinger/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — In February 2015, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considering whether to approve a new Monsanto weed killer anticipated to be sprayed on tens of millions of acres of crops, many researchers wanted to see how the herbicide would work in the field.

University researchers had been requesting the tests in order to ease farmers’ fears about crop damage, and Monsanto scientists wanted to conduct tests to help draft recommendations for farmers who would use the pesticide.

But knowing federal regulators were paying attention to the new weed killer's potential to contaminate other fields, the company decided to “pull back” on testing to allow dicamba to have a “clean slate,” according to an email from Dr. Tina Bhakta, who, in her role as global chemistry expansion lead for Monsanto, was responsible for obtaining EPA registration for the weed killer.


Thursday, Jan 30, 2020, 2:33 pm  ·  By Joseph Bullington

For Democrats, the Road to Victory in 2020 Runs Through Rural America. This Report Offers a Road Map

This graphic shows a county-by-county breakdown of the 2016 presidential election results. The counties that went for Donald Trump are colored red and the counties that went for Hillary Clinton are colored blue.   Graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s just over three years since the 2016 election and it has become unsettlingly normal in liberal circles to dismiss "rural America" as "Trump country" and look elsewhere for Democratic electoral hopes―like the Trump-dissatisfied suburbs.

A refreshing reportfrom the advocacy organization People's Action, composed of 48 member groups in 30 states, starts from the opposite premise: If Democrats want to regain power―and this goes for the Presidency and the Senate as well as state governments―they have got to figure out how to win in rural parts of this country. The question, as we barrel toward the 2020 elections, is how. The People’s Action report, which is titled "Win Rural: How to Build a Progressive Populist Political Movement in Rural and Small-Town America," offers the beginning of an answer.


Monday, Jan 27, 2020, 8:37 am  ·  By Johnathan Hettinger

Dicamba on Trial: Peach Farmer’s Case Against Bayer, BASF Set to Begin Monday

This photo shows soybeans with suspected dicamba damage north of Flatville, Illinois, on Aug. 21.   Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Reporter Johnathan Hettinger is covering the dicamba trial for the Midwest Center and will be posting periodic dispatches, which Rural America In These Times will republish as they become available.

After five years of reported crop damage by the weed killer dicamba, German agribusiness companies Bayer and BASF will head to trial this week to defend themselves against charges that they intentionally caused the problem in order to increase their profits.

The lawsuit, originally filed in November 2016 by a southeastern Missouri peach farmer, alleges that Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer in 2018, and BASF created the circumstances that have damaged millions of acres of crops. Read the full complaint here.

The trial is set to begin Monday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in Cape Girardeau. 


Friday, Jan 24, 2020, 4:59 pm  ·  By Simon Davis-Cohen

How a Little-Know Virginia Law Has Been Used to Uphold White Supremacy and Undermine Local Democracy

This photo shows the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. The city council voted to remove the statue in 2017 and the statue was at the center of the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in the city later that year. Recently, a Virginia district court ruled that the city council does not have the authority to remove the statue.  

November's elections delivered an overwhelming victory for progressives in Virginia, where Democrats solidified a majority in the General Assembly and candidates in local races followed suit. In Charlottesville, where the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally took place two years ago, voters elected a slate of progressive candidates to the city council, including an activist, Michael Payne, who is endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

But the gap between electing progressive officials and enacting progressive policies is a wide one. An ongoing court battle over the Confederate statues at the center of the white nationalist rally shows how a little-known legal rule has been used to hamstring local democracy across the state.


Friday, Jan 17, 2020, 10:52 am  ·  By Anthony Flaccavento

Our Food System Hurts Farmers, Consumers and the Earth. We Can Build a Movement to Change It

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) speaks at a news conference with farmers and ranchers supporting the Green New Deal and farm policy reform in Washington, D.C. The local foods movement has made half a revolution, but for the other half we need a million-person food movement and a Green New Deal, argues Anthony Flaccavento.   Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Americans cherish the “family farm.” Most are also happy to be able to buy local foods at farmers markets, grocers or their favorite restaurants.

In the marketplace, consumers are sending the message that they want more sustainable and organic food, sales of which exceeded $50 billion last year. And the vast majority of people in our nation believe that climate change is real, and that urgent action needs to be taken.

While there is some variability depending upon one’s political affiliation, Democrats and Republicans alike hold these views. If this is what we collectively believe, across party, then surely our politics and public policies support these priorities, right?

Well, not so much.