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Flooding near the Platte River, NE. Image: DroneBase/AP
by Zoey Shipley and Miro Korenha
In Spring 2019, much of the Midwest was hit with devastating floods. Nebraska alone was faced with over $1 billion in damages to roads, local businesses, crops, and levees. Natural disasters like this have contributed to the crumbling of the rural economy and lack of investment in these regions have made them vulnerable to a multitude of shocks (from flooding to the coronavirus).
But the reality is that this historic flooding is no longer a once-in-a-lifetime event. This is the new reality that rural communities may come to face every year with our warming climate–and it’s an urgent threat for their already fragile economies.
Why This Matters: The overlapping economic and environmental disasters are quickly becoming the new reality for all of rural America–regions where the environment and economy are intrinsically connected. Supporting rural farmers and helping them transition to regenerative farming practices that help sequester carbon has to be a part of our national climate agenda–much as Mayor Pete Buttigieg proposed in his rural plan.
Coronavirus And Our Food: If last year’s floods weren’t enough of a strain on crop prices for smaller-scale farmers, the outbreak of COVID-19 could prove to be disastrous. So far, prices for crops and livestock have fallen between 2% (for wheat) and 13% (for cattle) and dairy farms have experienced a 25% loss due to school lunch programs being suspended in many states. As Midwestern rural communities are struggling to recover from natural disasters, they’re now far more exposed to the economic and health consequences of a global pandemic.
What Comes Next: Local agricultural leaders are the stewards of their land. With extreme natural disasters, collapsing farm economies, and the growing threat of health pandemics all colliding together, food producers are struggling to stay afloat. In the next federal stimulus package, Congress needs to focus on farmers and local food production.
Without this financial support for ALL areas of local food production to stay in business, resources to help local producers move to more sustainable practices, and more attention to the rural health crisis then all the world will feel the ripple effect from these disasters on rural areas.
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