Rural Economy

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) chaired a task force of Trump cabinet members looking into how to improve the rural economy.
File/Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Shoring up rural America’s economy must start with broadband access and technology, a federal task force says in a report released Monday.

The group, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and made up of other Cabinet members, says doing so will bring rural areas increased health care access, better job training, smart electrical grids and more precision farming technology. Little of that can be accomplished, the report says, without closing the broadband gap between urban and rural residents.

Updated at 4:45 pm ET

President Trump thanked America's farmers for their political support on Monday and unveiled a plan designed to help revive fortunes in struggling rural areas. At the same time, the president is pursuing trade and immigration policies that could be harmful to farmers' bottom lines.

New apartments are being built in Holdrege, Nebraska, where an elementary school used to be.
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In places where the unemployment rate is well below the national average — states like Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — one would think it’d be easier for communities to recruit new residents to fill open jobs.

But the housing market works against rural towns and cities where jobs often stay open because there are too few affordable homes and apartments to buy or rent, or the ones that are affordable need lots of TLC. It’s a situation that threatens to turn low unemployment from an advantage into a liability.

The tax reform proposal could benefit small-town businesses, but it could also undermine programs that support rural hospitals if the national debt grows.
File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

It’s a common story: Ambitious kids move from small towns to larger cities, never to look back. When their parents die, the family wealth that’s been built over generations through farming, ranching or agriculture-related businesses often follows the kids, draining the economic lifeblood from those rural communities.

The largest generational transfer of wealth in modern times is expected to happen in the next 10 years and rural foundations in states like Iowa and Nebraska are working hard to retain at least a bit of those hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Illinois Touted As Property Tax Model For Wind Farms

Dec 9, 2017
Darrell Hoemann / Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Illinois’ taxing model for wind energy companies is touted as one of the best in the country, bringing in $30.4 million in property taxes in 2016, according to economic experts.

This Iowa farm was photographed in August, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was on a five-state tour to gather input on the 2018 farm bill.
Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

For the first time in its annual survey of rural America, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that mortality rates of working-age adults are on the rise because of opioid and heroin overdoses. 

Continuing longtime trends, rural areas are still seeing declining populations, the rebound from the Great Recession is slow and poverty remains a persistent problem, according to the USDA’s “Rural America at a Glance,” released Thursday.  

A grain cart collects corn harvested from one of the Hammond family's fields.
Courtesy Mary Anne Andrei

Every year on the farm has its challenges. There are weeds, insects and random hailstorms. Unpredictable global markets can make or break a profitable crop. Recent years, though, have been especially troubling for the Hammond farm in York County in eastern Nebraska.

Earl Bullington is an advisor for Focus Bank, which rescued the struggling Pemiscot County (Missouri) hospital in 2013.
Bram Sable-Smith / for Harvest Public Media

$1.25 million.

That’s the size of the bill that could have shuttered the only public hospital in rural Pemiscot County, Missouri in August 2013.

$750,000 for payroll. $500,000 for a bond payment. $1.25 million total. One August day in 2013, the hospital’s CEO Kerry Noble had to face facts: The money just wasn’t there. It took an emergency bailout from a local bank to keep their doors open. For now.

Since the Dillon's grocery store in St. John, Kansas, closed last year, residents have traveled 12 miles or more for their groceries.
Bryan Thompson / for Harvest Public Media

A brick building that was the only grocery store in St. John, Kansas, sits vacant, its glass doors covered with paper since it closed early last year.

St. John is the county seat of Stafford County in south-central Kansas, but it’s home to fewer than 1,300 people. Today, the closest grocery store is 12 miles away, in Stafford.

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