The Support Center’s blog is now a part of our new website! If you follow this blog and would like to continue receiving posts via email or RSS feed, please go to our new site to sign up:
This blog will be de-activated shortly.
We hope you will continue reading and sharing your feedback. Thank you!
The Daily Yonder blog yesterday featured the story of African-American farmers from Alabama who are able now to grow their generational farmers, thanks to a little help from the Tuskegee Farmers Conference.
Tuskegee University held their 121st Farmer’s Conference this year, what may be the oldest event of its type in the nation. Through the Farmers Conference, the University offers technical assistance to teach old and young farmers new ways to grow their farms and businesses. The Conference focuses on best practices for family farming operations, as well as a youth forum, allowing a younger generation to participate in the future of the agricultural industry. The farmers in the Daily Yonder story credit the conference with playing a large role in their success and continued sustainability, even in the face of social and financial barriers experienced by these African-American farmers.
Most of the farmers participating in the Tuskegee Farmers Conference grow smaller scale farmers, focusing on healthy foods over large-scale cash crops. Small scale farmers currently play a large role in supplying our nation with healthy foods. The success of these farmers show that healthy foods can be a viable economic market and growth industry again for rural communities.
Hopefully this resource will continue to provide farmers with the education necessary to continue to succeed at producing healthy foods for all of our communities. From the stories, it seems that these farmers have been able to build a self-reliant and sustainable community, with just a little knowledge and support through the Tuskegee Farmers Conference. Click here for the Daily Yonder story.
Yesterday we took a look at the various indicators of the health of our economy. While some pointed toward growth, others pointed toward uncertainty. One of the biggest questions was about jobs. the past three months had seen job growth exceeding 200,000– but the effect of the sequester had not kicked in yet. Today, a survey by they payroll processor ADP showed that private sector job growth slowed down in March, adding 158,000 jobs compared to February’s 237,000 jobs.
In an Associated Press news story, economist Mark Zandi attributes the increased February numbers to a spike in hiring after Superstorm Sandy. He also says that the government’s job numbers for March, due to be released at the end of the week, will come in below expected levels but the March decline is not a significant trend. He expects that the underlying trend will remain at an average of 175.000, which is what it has been for two years.
At the same time, another poll shows that most Americans believe that the priority for our nation should be job creation, not deficit reduction. Sixty-four percent of people polled said that they want the government to create jobs more than they want it to address our deficit.
These month-to-month fluctuations in jobs numbers are just one part of the story. Unemployment is still high in many communities, and job creation is a top concern. As we said yesterday, economic indicators can provide some insight into how our economy is doing, but they certainly cannot foretell the future, nor can they tell us about the disparities that exist. They provide a birds-eye view of the economic landscape, which is certainly useful in understanding the aggregate trends. The details, however, can tell us who is benefiting from an improving economy and who is still being left behind.
Yesterday the Washington Post took a look at the state of the economy to examine whether or not the recent upturn will have a lasting impact. In the previous two years, 2011 and 2012, the first half of the year started strong, but then was followed by a summer slump and a slow down. This year has started strong too, but economists are questioning whether this year will also see the summer slump.
On the plus side, housing, manufacturing, stocks and consumer spending are all up. Low interest rates have helped the housing market, and demand and home prices have both gone up. Homeowners who have seen their homes severely devalued should benefit from rising prices, as it will contribute to building back up their assets. Manufacturing has added jobs and is a “bright spot” in the economy.
Last month we discussed the uptick in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Even though we cautioned that record-highs in the Dow does not translate to benefits for all businesses, this is still one measure of the economy that is doing well. Finally, consumers are spending again, and spending is what drives our economy. February saw a particularly large increase in spending– the biggest in the past six months.
Now for the down side: jobs. Although the number of jobs created has surpassed 200,000 for three out of four of the past months, we are still facing an overall jobs deficit. In addition, the impact of the sequester has not been measured yet. Government agencies across the board will be implementing budget cuts and that will result in layoffs. The other more systemic issues is that long-term unemployment continues to be high, and many are running out of their unemployment insurance benefits.
As for the other indicators, while the housing market has improved it is still tenuous. Home sales remain low, and foreclosures have also increased a bit. The stock market may be up, but the impacts of this do not necessarily trickle down. Furthermore, the stocks are still below their pre-recession values. And finally, increased consumer spending has occurred while personal savings have declined.
All in all, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going to happen– particularly as the impacts of the sequester roll out over the upcoming months. It is also important to question assumptions– who exactly are we talking about when we discuss an economic recovery? As we have said before, the negative and positive impacts are not distributed evenly across our population. For those who have bore the brunt of this recession, it will be along time before any of these indicators have real meaningful impact on their day to day lives.
Last week, The Root took a look at the impact of rising food prices. Although inflation has remained low throughout the recession and into the recovery period, due to the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates low, food prices have steadily risen over the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2011, grocery prices have been going up at a rate of 2 to 3 percent annually. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that food prices will increase by 3 to 4 percent in 2013 alone.
Back in September, we blogged about a USDA report on food insecurity, which is defined as having limited access to food due to lack of money or resources. Nationally, 17.9 million households in the U.S. are food insecure, and The Root reports that over a quarter of African American and Hispanic households are food insecure. Almost one-third of African American households with children are food insecure.
The Root provides a few reasons as to why food prices continue to increase. One recent factor is the severe drought that affected most of the Midwest in 2012. The record-breaking low water levels impacted livestock, crops, and fishing, as well as tourism and other sources of economic development in those states. Consequently, the cost of corn, soybeans, and other grains has increased. Other factors include the U.S. crop subsidy program, which impacts the supply and therefore cost of food; higher oil prices; growing international markets; and political instability in other countries. All of these factors have an impact on how much the average American family pays for their basic food needs.
A few weeks ago, we had blogged about the impact of cost on healthy food purchases. If given support, families would choose to purchase more healthy foods, particularly if those foods are available in their communities. But with food prices continuing to increase, fewer families who are already food insecure will be able to purchase food at all, let alone healthy food options. The two factors of affordability and availability are integral to encouraging healthy eating in our communities.
The Star News has an article today about farmers in North Carolina beginning planting season amid continued uncertainty about farm policy at the federal level. The 2008 Farm Bill had expired back in September 2012, and in a rush to avoid a reversion back to laws from the 1940s, Congress passed a one-year extension of the bill. This just means that the Farm Bill debate will be taken up again later this year.
For farmers, this means moving ahead with the season without assurances on a range of policies and programs, including crop insurance , food safety, rural development, nutrition programs, and conservation among many others. Last year, the debate had been around reforming many of these programs. But without an agreement, the bill lapsed.
Agriculture is one of the biggest industries in North Carolina. As the Star News reports, it supports one in five jobs and accounts for 18 percent of gross state product. In addition to uncertainty on policy, the recent budget challenges, including the sequester, have meant additional budget cuts to farm programs. A few weeks ago, Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded for the rest of this fiscal year. It included a 5.3 to 5.8 percent cut for programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Further cuts could occur during the upcoming Farm Bill discussions because the Congressional Budget Office reported that the estimates of cost savings from last year’s Farm Bill proposals are actually less than what was initially estimated.
In sum, farmers, both large and small, are having to make investments and begin planting without a clear road map. As the expiration date for the Farm Bill extension approaches and as the discussion picks back up, it is important to keep in mind that behind the policy and numbers are real farmers. They are integral to our communities and to our food systems. Having a comprehensive policy for our farms, rural areas, environmental, and nutrition programs is important for all of our health and economic well-being.
Untied States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, announced yesterday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Strike Force for Rural Growth and Opportunity will be extended to 10 more states, including North Carolina. The initiative was started in 2010 to bring investment and development to the most poverty-stricken areas. The program began in Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi and then was expanded in 2011 to Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. Now it will include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
In each of these states, USDA works with state, local, and community officials in census tracts with poverty rates of over 20 percent to help facilitate participation in and education about USDA’s programs. According to the press release:
“The StrikeForce Initiative is helping us direct additional resources to better serve producers in persistent poverty rural communities,” said Vilsack. “We are focusing on these identified high poverty areas to help improve the quality of life of producers and their communities and to accelerate implementation of conservation practices on their land.”
Projects that Strike Force has worked on include building local food systems in food insecure areas, improving access to farm programs, and expanding technical assistance to businesses and farmers. A result of this initiative is that lending through the Farm Service Agency has increased in Strike Force areas, while it has decreased overall.
Access to resources and capital is crucial for rural economic development. People in these communities have faced significant barriers in accessing these resources and as a result, are left out of economic opportunity. The current economic recovery is also not doing much to improve the disparity between urban and rural, and between the rich and poor. Without proactive initiatives like Strike Force– and a focus on leveraging community assets and working with community leaders– rural areas will continue to suffer.
Given the results of Strike Force in other states, it appears to be a successful program. However, its efficacy could be hampered without adequate funding. Already, rural development has faced significant cuts. As Congress debates the Farm Bill later this year, it is vital that decisions about funding do not work against other good work and programming being offered by the USDA.