For the first time, more than one in five rural Americans is over the age of 65, said the Agriculture Department on Tuesday, and rural America is aging more rapidly than the rest of the country. The rural workforce is shrinking in number but becoming more racially diverse.
In the biggest USDA broadband announcement of the year, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Thursday that 49 projects will receive $759 million to bring high-speed internet access to rural communities from North Carolina to California. With the new funding, the USDA has awarded $1.6 billion through the third round of ReConnect grants and loans this year.
The Biden administration announced a half a billion dollars in grants and loans for high-speed internet projects in rural areas from Alaska to Alabama on Thursday, with more awards expected soon. The 2021 infrastructure bill set aside billions of dollars for broadband access, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “We now have, genuinely, an opportunity to cover all of rural America.”
U.S. commodity growers are feeling a little better about their prospects for the coming year than they were last month, but a number of major concerns persist and overall farmer sentiment remains far gloomier than a year ago, according to the Purdue/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer for August.
Companies from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran would be barred from purchasing U.S. agricultural land under language approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
Congress could use the 2023 farm bill to promote a “circular economy” that creates jobs and income in rural America rather than relying on rural areas for raw materials that are processed elsewhere, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday. “That's an important component of any farm bill discussion of the future,” he told reporters.
Up to $10 million is available to help residents of rural towns develop community renewable energy projects that will reduce their energy costs, said the USDA on Wednesday. Funding from the new Rural Energy Pilot Program will be targeted at communities that have been historically underserved by the government.
With automakers shifting toward the production of electric cars and trucks, the ethanol industry said on Wednesday that biofuels will be an important tool against global warming, and arguably create less pollution than battery-powered vehicles. The comparison was based on life-cycle costs for the power sources, starting at power stations for electricity and corn fields for ethanol.
Rural communities often look outside of their boundaries for the solution — a new employer or new residents — to their economic doldrums, say the editors of "Investing in Rural Prosperity," published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. "We believe rural communities are more likely to achieve these and other common community and economic development goals if ... they build from the inside on the assets they already have," write Daniel Davis and Andrew Dumont.
Throughout the pandemic, the highest Covid-19 case rates and the lowest vaccination rates in the country have been found in persistently poor rural counties, the USDA said Wednesday in its annual Rural America at a Glance report. Those counties have also had low unemployment rates, suggesting residents continued to work despite the risk of infection by the coronavirus, said the report.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that the USDA would spend up to $1.15 billion to bring high-speed internet services to people living in rural communities. The money would be available in loans and grants to providers who offer service with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second in areas that lack high-speed internet.
On a voice vote, the Senate confirmed former New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres Small as agriculture undersecretary for rural development. Torres Small is the second Biden nominee for agriculture undersecretary to be approved by the Senate.
Three-quarters of rural Americans are white, a larger proportion than the roughly six in 10 for the nation overall, but the rural population is becoming more diverse, said a pair of analyses of Census data. The rural America of the future will be increasingly diverse and not as politically conservative as many assume, said the Brookings Institution. (No paywall)
Rural Americans are dying of Covid at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer, and less vaccinated. (No paywall)
Nearly 6 million people in rural America had incomes below the poverty line during the pandemic year of 2020, an increase of 315,000 from the preceding year, according to a Census Bureau estimate released on Tuesday. The annual Income and Poverty report indicated that one in seven rural residents lived in poverty, compared to the national average of one in nine.
While nearly half of urban Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the rural rate is much lower — less than four in 10. "We still have so far to go," said the leaders of 30 farm and agribusiness groups on Wednesday in an open letter to their members that encouraged vaccinations to head off the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Projects in 12 states will receive a combined $167 million in USDA grants and loans to deploy broadband infrastructure in parts of rural America lacking sufficient access to high-speed internet service, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday.
On a voice vote, the House Agriculture Committee approved a bill on Wednesday to provide $43 billion over eight years to bring broadband service to hundreds of thousands of families and businesses that lack access now. Chairman David Scott said Democratic leaders were "looking to move this in an expeditious way to the Senate."