Massachusetts, like the rest of the country, is experiencing growing disparity between rural and urban centers.To reverse this trend, Massachusetts requires a rural strategy for economic growth. We must do more to attract investment that retains and expands existing jobs, stimulates the creation of new jobs and attracts new business and industry in these parts of the commonwealth. Between 2010 and 2017, the nation’s population grew by some 17 million people. But while cities grew, it was the first extended period on record with population decline in rural areas as a whole.The same was true in Massachusetts. Between 2010 and 2017, the population of the commonwealth grew by some 312,000 people, while the population fell in three of our most rural counties: Berkshire, Franklin and Barnstable.As elected officials representing rural western Massachusetts, we’ve worked together to reverse this trajectory. Specifically, we’ve fought to bring high-speed internet and improved rural transportation to the region as well as links to regional economic centers. We’ve worked to bring more money to our rural schools. And, we’ve supported our regional employment boards and a middle skills manufacturing initiative, which trains people in our region the skills they’ll need to get jobs in advanced manufacturing firms.But there is more we can do.We have introduced the Rural Jobs Act for Massachusetts. This legislation is aimed at attracting private capital investment to the small communities that help make up our commonwealth. This month, the state House of Representatives and Senate are debating an economic development bond bill, and this should be a part of that effort.
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has introduced a guide designed to walk utility systems through water conservation programs available via the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The guide, USDA Tools to Support Source Water Protection, provides information about keeping drinking water safe and free of excess nutrients. AWWA outlines programs available from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and provides utilities with contact information for additional USDA resources through the Agricultural Research Service, Climate Hubs, Economic Research Service and others.
Ending a dispute over a proposed net neutrality bill, California Democratic legislators said Thursday they have agreed on a proposal that would provide the strongest protections of open access to the internet in the country in response to last month’s federal repeal of similar rules.The compromise measures, which still require legislative approval, would bar internet service providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down websites and video, as well as charging websites fees for fast lanes, said state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), an author of one of the two proposed bills.
Requirements aimed at curbing Tennessee’s opioid epidemic are among more than 150 new laws that kick in Sunday. Many laws take effect on July 1 each year, when a new state budget year begins, and some of the highest profile ones this time around are part of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s “TN Together” opioid plan. Tennessee will begin limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a three-day supply, with exceptions for major surgical procedures, cancer and hospice treatment, sickle cell disease and treatment in certain licensed facilities. With the three-day initial supply restriction, Haslam’s office says, “Tennessee will have one of the most strict and aggressive opioid policies in the nation.” The Tennessee Medical Association, the state’s doctor lobbying group, has said it’s still concerned about unintended consequences for patients who may have more difficulty accessing effective pain management because of the law. Among other components, the opioid laws will offer incentives to get offenders to complete substance use treatment programs in prison and make it a second degree murder charge to deal fentanyl and similar dangerous substances when it causes a death.
Florida and Georgia have been arguing about the water that flows into the Apalachicola Bay for three decades, about as long as Tommy Ward and his family have been selling oysters from the bay. Florida says Georgia draws more than its fair share of water from the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers before they fuse to create the Apalachicola River. Georgia uses the water to supply thirsty Atlanta and the vast farmland south of the metropolis. But its disruption of the freshwater flow has increased the salinity of the bay and the number of oyster-eating predators, which are able to thrive in saltier water. The result: The virtual collapse of the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay. During a week filled with U.S. Supreme Court-related news, many overlooked the significance of the ruling the court issued last week in the Florida-Georgia dispute: Taking a rare — if not unprecedented — stance, the court seemed to suggest that in water disputes between states, the health of an aquatic ecosystem can be considered alongside drinking-water and farming concerns. Florida’s odds did not look good as its case was headed to the Supreme Court. Ralph Lancaster, the special master appointed by the court to oversee most hearings in the case, said that though the bay had been affected by overuse of water upstream, it wasn’t clear that capping Georgia’s water use would solve the problem.But the justices disagreed, saying Lancaster used too strong a standard in evaluating whether adjustments upstream could solve problems in the Apalachicola Bay. The court remanded the case back to Lancaster who must reconsider Florida’s proposal and evidence.
The biggest asset in a rural Tennessee school district’s innovative technology project may be the school system’s rural setting and eagerness to perform at the highest level. Polk County Schools, a small district in southeast Tennessee, is using its “rural pride” and “just rolling up our sleeves and getting it done,” said Jason Bell, the district’s supervisor of secondary curriculum and assessment. “We want to represent our district and many other rural districts in the best way possible.” The ambitious project is putting computer tablets into the hands of each of its 500 middle school students and their teachers. It also provides educators with training to use the technology for instruction, homework, student motivation, and other educational purposes. Polk County Schools is one of the few rural systems in the U.S. to be named a Verizon Innovative Learning school. The designation comes with 500 iPads, 5 gigabytes of data per month for each student and teacher in the sixth through eighth grades, and professional development support for teachers.
Gov. Ralph Northam arrived to announce a new broadband initiative to improve internet services in rural areas. Northam said Virginia used to be ranked No. 1 as the state in which to do business nationwide, but has fallen down the list in recent years. “One reason for that is lack of broadband,” Northam said, particularly in rural areas. “If you go to the eastern shore, here, or west, we’re nowhere near where we need to be.” The state raised the amount of money committed to improving rural broadband from $2 million to $8 million, and the Tobacco Commission has committed $11 million to the project, the governor said.
State health officials are warning Hoosiers to take preventative measures this fair season, after an Indiana resident caught the influenza virus following a visit to a county fair. This is the first human case of the H3N2 influenza in the Indiana since 2013, and first case reported nationwide this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, food banks statewide came up with an idea. Using funding from the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System and donations from the dairy industry, they got 12 tanker loads of surplus milk a local co-op was going to dump. (Milk-transport trucks can hold anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 gallons.) They took the rescued milk to local cheesemakers and made thousands of pounds to give away free at food pantries and shelters. For farmers, it meant total revenue of $165,000. Philabundance purchased 27,680 pounds of that cheese for donations, but then took the idea one step further. It bought more surplus milk to make more of the same cheese, this time to sell in fancy food stores, like DiBruno’s and Riverwards Produce in Philadelphia, under the brand Abundantly Good. For every pound of cheese sold, $1 goes back to the farmer to process milk into free cheese for hungry people. Giving people in need food of the same high quality as that sold in gourmet stores is what the whole program is really about, Bowdler said.
Farming is one of the most stressful occupations in the United States. This is particularly true for dairy farmers as they are experiencing an extended period of low milk prices. In response to the current dairy situation, the Four State Dairy Extension group is hosting three webinars that discuss how to recognize the signs of stress, how to deal with dairy farm families experiencing stress, analyzing a dairy for profits, the profitability of various dairy systems and what the Farm Financial Management Database says about production costs. The webinars will be held at 12 p.m. on July 10, 17 and 24. Presenters include Jim Salfer, University of Minnesota Extension; Larry Tranel, Fred Hall and Jenn Bentley, Iowa State Extension; John Shutske, University of Wisconsin Extension and Phil Cardoso, University of Illinois Extension. The topics discussed in the webinars are: • July 10 – Recognizing and managing stress in dairy farmers, July 17 – Knowing your cost of production and dairy outlook, July 24 – Making production decisions during challenging times.