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USDA study compares rural, urban health care

WILLMAR -- Reforming the U.S. health care system is a topic that has received much national attention in recent weeks. And since health is such a critical component to the well-being of any household, factors such as pre-existing health conditions and having access to quality and affordable health care have been key talking points regarding any national health care reform legislation.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service focused on the differences that exist in the health status and health care accessibility of rural households and farm-operator households, versus that of urban and nonfarm households.

In terms of health status, the study found that rural residents have higher rates of age-adjusted mortality, disability and chronic disease than their urban counterparts. But in addition, the study found that the gap between urban and rural mortality rates initially appeared in 1990 and has widened continually since then.

Farming has one of the highest occupational fatality rates of all occupations, and farm children also have high fatal accident rates. Farmers are also at high risk for work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure.

In terms of health insurance coverage, researchers found that among all farm-operator households, 14 percent of all members did not have health insurance in 2007. But in addition, the study found that the lack of coverage was higher for members of households in which farming was the primary occupation of the operator.

Regarding the issue of the health care accessibility, the study found that access to health care resources generally declines as population density declines and geographic isolation increases.

In smaller and more remote counties where small patient volumes will not support full-service hospitals, the rural health care model tends to focus on providing primary care and emergency care locally, and referring patients to regional health care centers for specialized care. As a result, rural residents in more remote areas incur higher financial and travel-time costs than urban residents for specialized treatment.

The entire findings of this study can be found on the ERS website at:

USDA initiative to connect children, schools and local farmers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a new initiative that attempts to better connect children to their food, while also creating opportunities for local farmers to provide food to schools in their communities.

Also announced was that USDA will make $50 million available for schools to buy local produce.

As part of the "Know Your Farm, Know Your Food" initiative, several USDA agencies will team together to assist school administrators as they transition to purchasing more locally grown foods.

The agencies will also provide schools with updated purchasing guidelines so they can buy fresh, locally grown produce for students through the Department of Agriculture's school nutrition programs.

The 2008 farm bill gave USDA new flexibilities to procure local fresh fruits and vegetables for the school lunch program. Using that flexibility, the department is proposing that schools now be able to buy fresh produce grown locally through their state agencies.

To date, the department has allowed only minimal processing of regional fruits and vegetables purchased for its school meals programs. However, the department will now allow additional processing, like cutting or slicing, and will work to fashion policies that will allow year-round produce in areas with short growing seasons.

August milk production up 4.4 percent

According to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota milk production during the month of August totaled 760 million pounds, up 4.4 percent from the 728 million pounds produced in August of 2008.

Minnesota's production per cow averaged 1,620 pounds in August, up 55 pounds from last August.

The average number of milk cows on Minnesota dairy farms during August was 469,000 head, unchanged from July, but up 4,000 head from one year ago.

Accumulated Minnesota milk production during the first eight months of 2009 totaled 6.07 billion pounds, up 2.8 percent from the same period one year ago.

Accumulated milk production in the 23 major dairy states during the first eight months of 2009 totaled 118.4 billion pounds, up 0.2 percent from the same period one year ago.

Wes Nelson is executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Kandiyohi County.