Anthem Is Reducing Insurance Exchange Plan Benefits In Kentucky Friday, Oct 21 2016 

Kentuckians in more than half of all counties who buy insurance through next year will have a much more limited choice of doctors and hospitals.

That’s because the only insurer left in Kentucky offering exchange plans in all 120 counties — Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield — will only offer an HMO plan in 74 of those counties starting Jan. 1.

An HMO plan means cheaper coverage in exchange for fewer doctors to choose from. Enrollees will only be able to go to an in-network doctor, which means the provider has agreed to be paid less in exchange for seeing a larger number of patients. Going to a doctor outside the network would mean none of the cost is covered.

“HMOs were created many years ago, but there were 30 choices. So if you couldn’t get into the network [with your provider], you just chose another type of plan,”said Jude Thompson, and insurance broker in Louisville. “We don’t have that. Choice is gone. We have Anthem, and we have Anthem.”

A spokesperson for Anthem said the move was in response to changes in the “health care environment.” United Healthcare, Baptist Health Plans and Aetna have pulled out of the market in Kentucky, citing the inability to make money.

“With the recent changes in the health care environment, Anthem has responded with new products offered through Kentucky’s Health Benefit Exchange and will offer PPO plans in 46 counties, and HMO plans in 74 counties,” said Mark Robinson, public relations director with Anthem.

Humana is only offering exchange plans in Jefferson County, and CareSource will offer plans in some counties. [Story continues below graphic]

Large swaths of the state will be affected — the entirety of Eastern Kentucky and counties surrounding Louisville, Lexington, Owensboro, Bowling Green and Paducah. More than 85,000 people had exchange coverage this year in Kentucky.

Rural areas will be most affected by the reduced choices. For instance, in the Eastern Kentucky city of Louisa — population 2,482 — the Three Rivers Medical Center won’t be in the Anthem HMO network. Instead, exchange enrollees would have to drive 31 miles north to Kings Daughters Medical Center to go to the hospital.

“It’s unfortunate to see they’re leaving the Kentucky market with so few options,” said Emily Beauregard, executive director of the advocacy group Kentucky Voices for Help.

Joel Thompson, an insurance broker in Ceredo, West Virginia, on the border with Ohio and Kentucky, estimates he has 60 clients enrolled in exchange plans. A majority of these are from Kentucky, and a little less than half picked an HMO plan last year because it was cheaper.

But he said he had several clients who specifically asked for a plan with their doctor in-network and so had to splurge on a broader-network plan that was more expensive. That won’t be an option this year.

“There are a number of people that have providers that they swear by, cardiologists and other very specialized physicians that are not HMO. And they’re really going to be hurting this year,” Thompson said. “And that’ll be devastating for a lot of people.”

30 Miles or 30 Minutes

Kentuckians who are enrolled in HMO exchange coverage will still be able to access emergency care at their local hospital, but they’ll otherwise not have insurance cover out-of-network medical providers.

The state also has an “Any Willing Provider” law that lets any doctor or hospital join an insurance plan if they accept the payment rate on the table.

But because these plans on principal pay a low rate, it might not be in the interest of a hospital to be in-network.

Jude Thompson, president and partner at health insurance brokerage Agency One in Louisville, said having an HMO-only network can work if providers are taking new patients.

A 2015 survey of 1,257 primary care physicians by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 14 percent of doctors weren’t taking new patients. Pair that with a more limited network with more patients being sent to providers.

“Here would be the issue: If a physician practice is already at 100 percent, they don’t have to accept new patients,” Thompson said. “That’ll be the domino effect.”

The choices left were not the intention when the Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress in 2010. There were supposed to be a lot of options, according to the theory supporting the law.

The Kentucky Department of Insurance enforces regulations regarding network adequacy, which say an enrollee must be able to access a hospital and primary care within 30 miles or 30 minutes of the person’s home or work.

“They want people to have access to a plan, and if that’s the only option, they obviously want that to be available, especially when there is a law requiring insurance,” said Nancy Galvagni, senior vice president of the Kentucky Hospital Association. “What are people supposed to do if there’s no plan offered and you’re under a law that says you have to be insured? I’m sure it’s a balancing act for the Department of Insurance.”


Are Kentucky Doctors At A Disadvantage Under New Medicare Reg? Monday, Oct 17 2016 

Whether or not your doctor stays in business over the next few years could hinge on their ability to adapt to a new regulation changing how Medicare pays doctors and clinicians.

The game-changing regulation aimed at paying medical providers for quality instead of quantity is known as MACRA. It’s based on legislation passed last year by Congress to overhaul how Medicare pays doctors.

There are two routes medical providers can take: Medical practices can earn higher reimbursements if they learn new ways of doing business. That includes being willing to accept financial risk and reward for performance, reporting quality measures to the government, and using electronic medical records. The majority of medical practices will go this route, according to the Kentucky Medical Association.

Or they can join a network of medical providers and hospitals that shares financial and medical responsibility for providing coordinated care to patients in hopes of limiting unnecessary spending.

How it works

Every time a medical provider bills Medicare for a patient, the provider gets paid a lump sum regardless if the patient gets better. Most insurers pay this way. Under the new regulation, the federal government will give bonuses to providers if they use electronic medical records and report quality measures that patients are improving.

Patrick Padgett, executive vice president for the Kentucky Medical Association, said some doctors might already be doing some of the what the rule sets out, but for many, it will be a complete shift.

“It’s asking the medical system to essentially a adopt a new way of operating and documenting and reporting completely different from what they’ve done traditionally,” Padgett said.

Doctors will still be paid for every visit. The bonuses will start out at 4 percent and increase to 9 percent by 2022. At the same time, providers that do not follow the MACRA regulations will get penalized the same percentage.

A 4 percent dock in pay might not sound like a lot but that amount could make or break an independent medical provider’s office. That’s according to Trudi Matthews, managing director of the Regional Extension Center, a federally funded organization that helps hospitals and doctors across Kentucky comply with federal regulations.

“A lot of folks would say they make just enough money to cover the cost of patients,” Matthews said. “They may only have a margin of 2 to 4 percent, so if they’re going to lose 4 percent, that’s a big hit. There aren’t many health care organizations that could take reductions year over year and stay in business.”

Medicare is by far the biggest payer of health insurance claims in Kentucky. The Department of Health and Human Services sets rules for how and how much doctors are paid, and other insurers follow suit.

“Most commercial insurers have announced that they’ll be tying spending to value,” Matthews said. “It’s not just Medicare, it signals a trend in the [health insurance] marketplace.”

Comparing states

Under MACRA, providers can earn bonuses for reporting quality measures. The government will use this as a means of gauging how well a medical provider is improving a patient’s health outcome. For example, providers can earn bonuses for keeping track of patients who have schizophrenia and whether or not they take their medication on a daily basis. Or measuring a hyperglycemia patient’s blood glucose levels.

Most quality measures adjust if a patient is very sick in the beginning but improves. They also adjust based on age and gender. But most measures don’t take into account if a patient lives in a bad neighborhood, far from a pharmacy or doesn’t have reliable transportation to the doctor for follow-ups. In 2015, Kentucky ranked in the bottom five states with the most people living in poverty at 19.1 percent.

These factors can put Kentucky doctors at a disadvantage. And Padgett said the government will score doctors on these quality measures against every other state.

“We have a population base that’s less healthy than the rest of the country. And I don’t think that’s a big secret,” Padgett said. “Some of the measurements Medicare will use could be based on national bench marks, and if they are, we could potentially be ranked lower, and therefore the providers get penalized.”

Health care providers next year will have to report this information and 50 percent of that bonus or penalty will based on the how well patients do. Another 25 percent will be based on the use of electronic health records, 15 percent on professional education courses and 10 percent on the cost of care.

Piggy Express: ‘Right To Farm’ Law Shields Giant Hog Operation Monday, Oct 17 2016 

Mount St. Joseph in Daviess County, Kentucky, may appear calm with the Green River flowing past homes that dot the farmland here. But there is trouble in the air and it comes along with the smell of a large hog farm.

Sixty-three year old Jerry O’Bryan was born and raised on a farm in Daviess County. By the time he was 22 he had lost both parents and was left 150 acres to support his family.

“Back when I started there was two things that a young man with very little money could do to get started in agriculture, one of them was tobacco and the other one was hogs,” explained O’Bryan.

Jerry O'Bryan's farm produces 200,000 market hogs a year.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Jerry O’Bryan’s farm produces 200,000 market hogs a year.

Now he produces more than 200,000 market hogs a year. Recently, he built a hog truck wash, Piggy Express LLC., to sanitize five semi-trucks used a day to transport hogs to market. The facility upset local residents. They’ve formed  a group called CAPPAD, or Community Against Pig Pollution and Disease. Don Peters, a retired engineer, is a member.

“This truck wash was built to counter the transmission of the PED virus, which is Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea. That wiped out about half of the western Kentucky pig herd here about two years ago,” Peters said.

Worried that polluted runoff from those trucks could reach other properties, some just 200 feet away, Peters is frustrated by what he sees as an abuse of a well-meaning law: the Right to Farm Law. He says O’Bryan shouldn’t have had the right to build the wash in the first place, but the dated language of the state’s Right to Farm law supported it by shielding the owner from legal challenge.

 "They do not have the right to change the face of agriculture,” O’Bryan said of his neighbors.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

“They do not have the right to change the face of agriculture,” O’Bryan said of his neighbors.

Right To Farm, But Which Farms?

“We’re in total agreement with the Right to Farm Bill and its intended purpose,” Peters said. “But it has been hijacked and in this particular case being used as a screen to afford the particular operation to move into what would normally be considered a community,” said Peters.

Peters believes what’s happened in Daviess County could happen almost anywhere. Every state has some version of a Right to Farm statute and, like Kentucky, many have dated language.

“You have these houses here, you have these houses here, here," Peters said "He comes along and, plunk, right in the middle,” Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

“You have these houses here, you have these houses here, here,”Peters said “He comes along and, plunk, right in the middle,”

Rusty Rumley is a senior staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center. He says most statutes were implemented in the ‘70s and ‘80s to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits long before the rise of many industrial-scale operations. [Story continues below graphic.]

right-to-farm-states-bills-v3Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“Most of the states there is no reference to the [farm] size. Some of them have been updated since then, but for the most part, many of those laws are substantially on the books now as they were when they were originally enacted,” said Rumley.

Kentucky’s statute overrules any local or county ordinances with farms in operation for more than a year. Ohio’s statute protects industry in any agricultural zoned area that is in devoted exclusively to agricultural production three of the five calendar years.

Missouri and North Dakota  have recently added the Right to Farm to their constitution, placing farming on par with speech and religion and guns. Oklahoma is attempting the same with  question 777 on on the ballot for November 8, which is completely different from the old version, according to Rumley.

“This new version” he said,  would give Oklahoma farms the constitutional right to raise livestock without interference from future regulations by the state Legislature without a compelling state interest.

“The older Right to Farm Bills,” like Kentucky’s Rumley said, “strictly offer nuisance protection.”  While they have the same title legislation varies greatly from state to state.

Rumely said as a general rule of thumb,  “the more important agriculture is to the economy of the state the stronger the right to farm protection will generally be.”

Kentucky’s Statute

Since a Right to Farm Bill was first passed in Kentucky in 1980, only once has a court publicly ruled on the statute. Jay Prather is a Lexington based lawyer that represented the plaintiff in Powell v Tosh, a case where a group of concerned citizens filed suit against a commercial hog operation. In the 2013 pretrial decision, the courts addressed the Right to Farm statute used as defense.

“The farm in question had only begun hog operations in the previous few years,” explained Prather. “All of the plaintiffs lived on their land before the hog operations began so the court ruled that the hog operation was not a pre-existing operation, even though the land had been used for farm land it had previously just been used to grow crops, and some small livestock, but not for industrial farming,” said Prather.

The Powell v Tosh case was a closed settlement and took place in district court, so Prather said it’s not binding on any future court decisions, but would certainly be persuasive.

Peters of CAPPAD hopes a lawmaker will amend Kentucky’s Right to Farm language to give existing communities protection as well as farms. But in an election year no one has offered to bring it to the legislature.

Kentucky Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff Keith Rogers said he has not been approached by CAPPAD on the issue but would be willing to sit down with the group, along with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, to better understand the concerns.

If CAPPAD can not find a sponsor to amend the Kentucky Right to Farm statute, Rogers said “the KDA and Commissioner can propose legislation as needed to members of the general assembly.”

But changes in the law “sometimes takes years” Rogers said, because of the educational process and bringing a consensus together. Rogers believes the state will only hear more issues related to the statute.

“Agriculture has changed a great deal over the last 10 or 20 years and many of our farming operations have grown substantially,” Rogers said. “This may be one of those situations where it’s time to take a review of the Right to Farm Law.”

Rogers said the KDA will side with the farms as long as they are “good actors” or environmentally compliant.

‘Gray Water’ No Black and White Issue

“We're in total agreement with the Right to Farm Bill and its intended purpose,” Peters said. “But it has been hijacked in this particular case."Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

“We’re in total agreement with the Right to Farm Bill and its intended purpose,” Peters said. “But it has been hijacked in this particular case.”

Peters said the environmental compliance issue is his greatest concern. He stood on his neighbor’s property line taking in the nearby truck wash.

“You have these houses here, you have these houses here, here, here, here, here, you have our two houses, he comes along and, plunk, right in the middle,” he said. Peters points out while the area is agriculturally zoned, there is a community of residences that existed before this truck wash was conceived.

right-to-farm-mapAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Since the wash began operations in February, Peters said appraisals of nearby homes show they have lost 15 to 30 percent of their value.

Rachel Foster, a property valuation administrator for the area confirmed the loss. She said two of those homes have appealed further depreciation because they feel the appraisal should have demonstrated a greater loss in value.

More than property value, Peters  is concerned about the impoundment used to store waste water from the trucks. O’Bryan calls it a “gray water pond.” Peters says it’s a “lagoon.” It’s an important distinction  because Kentucky’s Division of Water doesn’t regulate gray water, but they do regulate lagoons associated with the pork industry.

O’Bryan calls the wastewater impoundment at the wash a “gray water pond” because he believes a lagoon is “something that is getting a lot of nutrient load and this is not.”

Peters is worried about how O’Bryan will control the waste water levels.

“So this field is to get rid of that water, and this stream is to get rid of that water,” Peter said, pointing to features nearby. “That’s the real reason he bought it.”

Jerry O’Bryan said he looked for more than a year before deciding where to put the truck wash, he said it had to be far enough from the hogs to maintain proper biosecurity measures.

“We had to find something far away and we found this place and everything about it seemed to fit, I gave a lot of money for it, it’s about 3 miles away from our nearest hogs,” O’Bryan said.

"Gray water pond" or "pig waste lagoon"? The answer may determine what rules apply.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

“Gray water pond” or “pig waste lagoon”? The answer may determine what rules apply.

An Escalating Farm Fight

O’Bryan maintains that his operation is business as usual and that the CAPPAD members are trying to change something they just don’t understand. And he has some pretty inflammatory words for his neighbors.

“Now I could get real radical and belligerent and say well they remind me of Muslims they come in and they want to change the culture,” O’Bryan said. “These are obviously Americans but they do not have the right to change the face of agriculture,” said O’Bryan.

O’Bryan says he has seen this all before. CAPPAD will grow tired of complaining and it will all go away. But Don Peters insists he is here to stay.

“Let me put it this way,” Peters said. “I’m going to die here. So I’ll fight it. I don’t have that many more years left.”

New Kentucky Home: From Battle Zone Refugee To Business Owner Monday, Oct 3 2016 

The international refugee crisis caused by people fleeing the war-torn Middle East has been a high-profile issue in the presidential campaign.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton told CBS’s “Face the Nation” last year that “the U.S. has to do more” to meet what she called the worst refugee crisis since the end of WWII.

Republican opponent Donald Trump told a rally in New Hampshire that as president he would turn away refugees from nations such as Syria. “If I win, they’re going back!” he said.

But beyond the heated political rhetoric, the work of finding new homes for asylum seekers continues at a dozen refugee resettlement areas in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. And as new new refugees arrive from Syria, those who have already made the transition to a new life in America are lending a hand.

The International Center of Kentucky, in Bowling Green, will be resettling forty Syrian refugees this month. They’ll join a community of more than 10,000 asylum seekers from around the world that the center has helped to resettle since beginning operation in 1981.

I sat down with a former refugee to better understand his journey, and how the small business he has started is creating a community of support for refugees making their new Kentucky home.

From the Middle East to the Midwest

In 2013 Wisam Asal opened Jasmine International Grocery, a small family run store with sweets, religious items and food from many countries.

Asal's Jasmine International Grocery has become an important part of the community of refugees in Bowling Green. Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Asal’s Jasmine International Grocery has become an important part of the community of refugees in Bowling Green.

Asal walks across the street wearing a baseball cap to his new restaurant, Babylon. People chat and catch up at the counter as they order shawarma and falafel sandwiches. He’s found a way to bring a bit of his home country’s culture to Kentucky and create two businesses that have quickly become important to Bowling Green’s international community.

Asal said it wasn’t easy starting a business here but the community of refugees and other people in Bowling Green helped him succeed.

“We have friends who are at the same time our customer,” Asal said. “They help us, they encourage us.”

Wisam Asal left his native Iraq as a refugee. Now he owns two small businesses in Bowling Green.Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Wisam Asal left his native Iraq as a refugee. Now he owns two small businesses in Bowling Green.

Life During Wartime

In his native country, Iraq, Asal taught English until the U.S. war when he became a translator for the U.S. Army. The work made him and his family potential targets. Even his trips between home and work became hazardous, as kidnappers and assassins would strike translators or their loved ones during these daily routines.

“Some of my friends work as translator, interpreter has been killed or like kidnapped. Nobody has idea about them,” Asal said.

It took two years before Asal got approval to move to America through a refugee resettlement program. He packed up and moved to Bowling Green with his wife and two daughters in 2010. His son was born in 2011.

When Asal first got here there weren’t many jobs. So, like many other refugees, he worked in a chicken processing factory. He then worked as a teacher’s aide before deciding that he wanted to start his own business.

Love Of Food Becomes A Business

Asal saw a need for other refugees to get the Halal food that they were used to. Halal means food prepared in ways permissible under Islamic practices. Some were driving as far as Nashville to get Halal meats.

“They say they were suffering to get what they like or their kind of food,” Asal said.

Wisam Asal's Bowling Green restaurant, Babylon.Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Wisam Asal’s Bowling Green restaurant, Babylon.

Asal and many other refugees get halal food for their home from the Amish community. The Amish keep knives in a separate area that are used specifically to prepare halal meat.

“Some of them they make private place for Muslim people,” he said. “Even the knives and things they tell us, ‘This is for you.’”

Asal said he realizes that many Americans might not understand the lengths he and other Muslim immigrants go to for properly prepared food. “It is religion, we have to,” he said. “It is not like something small you can give up.”

refugee-pop-ky-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource
refugee-pop-oh-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource
refugee-pop-wv-v2Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Asal has found food is an important part of culture and identity for new arrivals in the country. He says even many children of refugees who grow up in America still prefer to eat the way their parents do.

The grocery store isn’t just a place to buy food. It’s a place for people to keep in touch, find out whose family will be coming to America next, what events are being planned and what’s going on in the world. It’s also a place where newcomers come to get help.

“People keep coming to us asking for help, how to go to doctor, how to buy cars or things,” he said. “Even sometimes we close our business to go with them, because maybe they are refugee,” Asal said. His business has become much more.

“I call it, this is another international center. “

Bowling Green, pop. 61,400, has helped to resettle some 10,000 refugees in the past 35 years. Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Bowling Green, pop. 61,400, has helped to resettle some 10,000 refugees in the past 35 years.

A Balance Of Cultures

As Asal explained his work and home life, it was clear he’s hoping to find a balance between assimilating in his new home and keeping in touch with his old one. He and his wife continue teaching their children Arabic in hopes it will help them maintain their culture. Although they prefer American cartoons, Asal encourages them to watch cartoons in Arabic.

“The TV has big effect on anyone. So we have our channels they can watch these channels and keep them learning Arabic and what is going on in our countries,” Asal said.

Some of his descriptions of parenting sound much like any other parent’s concerns. He worries that his children don’t get to roam free outside as much as they did before, when they had a large yard, and could play without being watched by their parents.

“When we grew up there it was safe for you to play outside because most people, they know each other. But here you can’t let them go out for long time, you have to watch them,” Asal said.

Although it’s different living in America Asal considers this home now and he says over time the differences between people have disappeared. He likes the people and the safety he has here.

“The people they are nice and when you ask them something they help you. They keep smiling,” Asal said.

Asal doesn’t feel homesick for his home in Iraq. Rather, when he goes back to visit he finds himself missing his home here in America.

Data Farming: How Big Data Is Revolutionizing Big Ag Monday, Sep 19 2016 

It’s harvest time and a semi full of corn just pulled onto the scales at Seven Springs Farm in Cadiz, Kentucky. On the scale, the analytics work begins: moisture content, weight, production rates, and more are all recorded.

This is just one truck and many more will follow with much more to be stored and later sold for ethanol production. Just one of the farm’s bins can hold as many as 350,000 bushels, or 16.8 million pounds.

These trucks of corn are just one bite of a mouthful of big data that this local farm’s server can no longer swallow. As the farm’s production and technology manager, it’s Nick Woodruff’s job to keep track of it all.

“The way things communicate now and interact has changed a lot in the last couple years, Woodruff said.

big data affects farming in kentuckyNicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Nick Woodruff manages production and technology at Seven Springs Farm in Cadiz, Kentucky.

So has the size of the farm: what started at just 2000 acres covers 36,000 today. When the farm was smaller and “clouds” still just meant white puffy things in the sky, farm data were stored on site. Now, everything is transmitted to a cloud server owned by John Deere, the tractor company.

“All the technology we use is to make us better,” Woodruff said.

The farm uses drones for aerial imagery, “so we can see our strengths and weaknesses at any time in the field,” he said. Machinery and software orchestrate the farm’s variable rate planning, a process that automates the rates of chemical application and seed planting based on detailed field maps. Woodruff can watch this happen in real time and receive the data as it happens.

“It’s all to cut cost, increase production and be more efficient,” he said.

Each silo at Seven Springs Farm can hold more than 16 million pounds of corn, and keeping track of it is a data challenge.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Each silo at Seven Springs Farm can hold more than 16 million pounds of corn, and keeping track of it is a data challenge.

Big data brings big opportunities. Advanced precision technology allows farmers to crunch massive amounts of data collected through sensors that suggests seeds to use, optimal planting strategies to improve production, cut operational costs, and minimize environmental impact. But as data add value, some thorny questions crop up: just who owns the data?

Woodruff has a privacy agreement with John Deere that makes him owner of data he adds to the company’s  database. However, a company with no connection to Woodruff,  Ag Connections, also has access to that information once John Deere adds the data to that collected from other farmers.

The Data Harvesters

Rick Murdock and Pete Clark are co-founders of Ag Connections.

“Equipment manufacturers have their own product that those machines talk to,” Murdock explained, “then we talk to that server and we pull that record from that server.”

Clouds loom large--both literally and figuratively--over Ag Connections, a high tech company housed in an old tobacco barn in Murray, Kentucky. Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Clouds loom large–both literally and figuratively–over Ag Connections, a high tech company housed in an old tobacco barn in Murray, Kentucky.

The company has integration agreements with John Deere and other manufacturers. Ag Connections is housed in an old refurbished tobacco barn in Murray, Kentucky, and was recently purchased by Syngenta, which is currently the world’s largest seller of agricultural chemicals. (There are talks that China National Chemical Corp. might also be buying Syngenta.) Ag Connections software is offered as a service with Syngenta’s products.

Murdock and Clark realized the value of data back in the 90’s when they saw farmers doing detailed spatial analytics. The farmers knew how to get data, but didn’t exactly know how to manage it.

“What we wanted to do was give them a software product where if they kept their records they could more professionally report and relate to their business partners,” said Murdock.

Meeting Regulations

The software also helps clients comply with regulations. A weather app, for example, will allow a grower to make fertilizer purchase orders with the forecast in mind. That can help reduce pollution from runoff.

“In northwest Ohio we have a lot of growers where they aren’t allowed to apply nitrogen on the field if there is a forecast in the next 36 hours with one inch of rain or greater,” Murdock said.

Increased government regulations are expected across the board. Murdock says their software can help a grower document due diligence.

survey-v4Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

By looking at data from a grower’s current performance and comparing that to state and national averages, the company can also assess how efficiently they are using fertilizer.

“That relates to food processors who want to document that it’s being done under sustainable methods,” Clark said. This baseline allows grower to promote their products as “sustainably sourced” for the products that went into growing the food.

Clark said Ag Connections understands growers are concerned about their data. So the company has a privacy agreement with each client. As the security concerns continue to mount, the Farm Bureau suggests a list of data principles be adopted by each agriculture technology provider. Ag Connections signed on to this as well.

Big Data, Big Concerns

The more data harvesting grows, so do concerns in farm country. According to a May survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation, 77 percent of farmers are extremely concerned about who gets access to their data.

“There is a lot of fear currently and a lot of the fear is real,” said Terry Griffin, a cropping systems economist at Kansas State University. Griffin and some colleagues are working on a white paper on big data in agriculture. Griffin worries about threats from hackers planting false data. But most farmers he hears from are worried about who owns data and how that might affect the value of farm land.

venn-v3Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Griffin said loss of data control could undermine a grower’s competitive advantage and could even lead to land grabs. “Farms may fear that a neighboring farm may have a better competitive advantage than they do and acquire more land more quickly,” Griffin said.

Simple land transactions could quickly become complex. For example, if  land is rented, as many farms are, who then owns the data generated: the tenant or the landowner?

“Absent a privacy agreement or some other sort of contract negotiated between the parties there may not be a whole lot of protectable rights with respect to that information,” said Oklahoma State University Associate Professor Shannon Ferrell, who is also working on the white paper.

Law protecting trade secrets might apply, but Ferrell said that would take some work.

“I have to show that it’s got economic value,” he said, “because no one else knows what it is and I’ve been working diligently to keep that information secret.”

Info Ownership

There is probably a good argument to be made that the producer owns any raw data that they are collecting. But much of the law surrounding intellectual property rights, such as copyrights and patents, hinges on the creative effort behind a piece of information.

There is nothing “creative” about, say, the yield monitor data from a grower’s combine. That means the grower probably can’t copyright or patent the information.

“If someone takes that information–just raw information–but creates something new out of it, that creator probably has a greater right to the new creation, whether or not they would have any claim to the data that got them to that point,” Ferrell explained.

Ferrell suspects some of these farm data disputes could land in the courts. He doesn’t know of any cases so far, but he has heard about potential expert witnesses preparing reports on the value of data.

Next Green Revolution?

If growers aren’t fully aware of the potential risks in data disclosure, neither are they aware of the full opportunities, according to Tyler Mark at the University of Kentucky. He thinks data could bring the “next revolution” in agriculture.

Mark, an assistant professor of production economics, is another collaborator on the ag data white paper. “If you look back at the agriculture sector we’ve had the ‘green revolution,’” Mark said, in reference to the great gains brought by hybridized crops, chemical fertilizers, and mechanized irrigation. Mark and his colleagues argue that the next great leap will come with data, and that’s why it’s critical to get over the hurdles of sharing information.

“Will the greatest benefits come at the farm level or will they come at another level up the supply chain?” Mark asked. “Would we benefit more at the national level with a total look at chemical and pesticide usage across the board?”

Industry experts like Ferrell, Griffin, and Mark say the benefits of gathering and sharing data outweigh the risks.

“In particular cases big data allows some farmers to level the playing field,” Griffin explained. Mega farms can afford technology to generate data for themselves. But with these new data communities, smaller farmers would also have access to sort of productive techniques the larger farms enjoy.

Inside the cabin of a self-driving tractor that harvests data as well as crops.Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

Inside the cabin of a self-driving tractor that harvests data as well as crops.

Plowing Ahead

Farmers like Nick Woodruff agree. Even though he’s still leery of having his data in the cloud, that  hasn’t stopped Woodruff’s farm from embracing new technology like the new John Deere self-driving tractor. The precision tool has sensors that gather information from the moment it’s turned on.

Woodruff said just like the rest of the economy, everything in agriculture is consolidating. Big farms are getting bigger and farmers are finding it more difficult to keep pace with all the new technology.

“If you aren’t moving forward you are falling behind,” he said.

TODAY: Listen To Our News Special On Kentucky Politics Friday, Sep 9 2016 

With Labor Day behind us, the campaign season is in full gear. Republicans are riding a wave of success in Kentucky. At stake this year: control of the state House, the last legislative body in the South still controlled by Democrats.

Democrats have 53 seats in the House, and Republicans have 47. The GOP has political momentum going into the fall, coming off two years of successful statewide campaigns.

Last month, GOP Minority Leader Jeff Hoover said he felt “really good” about the party’s chances to flip the house.

“Fundraising is going extremely well for us,” Hoover said. “Our candidates are working hard. We feel like we’ve got a great opportunity.”

If Republicans net four more state House seats this fall, they would control the entire legislative process in Frankfort. Hoover would likely be elected Speaker if Republicans take over.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race continues its sleepy pace as Democratic candidate Jim Gray fights to be competitive and incumbent Rand Paul lays low, enjoying the Republican surge in the state.

Interest in the race has paled in comparison to the 2014 barnburner between Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Join us to talk Kentucky politics Friday at 1 p.m. on 89.3 WFPL, and call us with your questions. You can listen online at

Related reading:

Massive Archive Showcases Decades Of LGBTQ Life In Kentucky Tuesday, Aug 30 2016 

Exploration of the long history of LGBTQ life in Kentucky is just beginning — thanks in part to Lexington historian Jonathan Coleman and artist Robert Morgan.

The two are the driving force behind the Faulkner-Morgan Pagan Babies Archive, which chronicles LGBTQ life in Kentucky. It stretches back at least to 1780 and features more than 12,000 items and 100 hours of recorded interviews, including material provided by artist Henry Faulkner.

I spoke with Coleman about shining a light on the history LGBTQ life in Kentucky.

Listen in the audio player above.

Coleman on the earliest story in the archive:

“We have found stories as early as 1780 in Kentucky of men, a couple, who seem to get along pretty famously. They’re friends with Henry Clay, and no one seems to mind they’re lovers.”

Coleman on artist Morgan on helping build the archive:

“Sometimes it was just junk literally laid out in trash cans during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Bob was talking care of people he didn’t even know well but who had been abandoned by their families. And after they died of AIDS, their landlord or families would just throw their personal stuff out on the curb, and Bob would take it and keep it.”

LGBTQ Archive - SailorsCourtesy Jonathan Coleman

Henry Faulkner with two unknown sailors, late 1940s

Two unidentified women, early 1900s, photograph from KentuckyCourtesy Jonathan Coleman

Two unidentified women, early 1900s, photograph from Kentucky

Jonathan Coleman and Robert Morgan by Tom Eblen, 2016Tom Eblen

Jonathan Coleman, left, and Robert Morgan

Divine performing at Club Au Go Go, Lexington, 1982Courtesy Jonathan Coleman

Divine performing at Club Au Go Go, Lexington, 1982

Above: James “Sweet Evening Breeze” Herndon


Kentucky Reopens Medicaid Waiver Comment Period Monday, Aug 8 2016 

Kentuckians who missed the chance to give input on proposed changes to state-run Medicaid now have until the end of the day on August 14 to comment.

Officials with the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services say the comment period was reopened because of the high volume of remarks received after the original July 22 deadline.

“We got 30 percent of comments on the last day and even some after the deadline,” said Jean West, Cabinet for Health and Family Services communications director. “So we decided to extend it to accept the comments that came right after the deadline and allow any others.”

She said the state has not determined a date for submission of the revised waiver to the federal government. That will allow officials time to go through comments, she said.

Medicaid was expanded in 2014 to include people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit, or $16,394 for a single person.

The number of adults without insurance fell from 18.8 percent in 2013 to 6.8 percent in 2015 in Kentucky, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Before the Medicaid expansion, eligibility for parents was at 57% of the federal poverty limit ($11,491 for a family of 3 in 2016) and there was no coverage for adults without dependent children.

Kenny Colston with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said he hopes more people will comment on Gov. Bevin’s proposed changes to Medicaid, specifically the elimination of default vision and dental coverage for able-bodied adults. Bevin is proposing a ‘rewards’ account that would let people earn points toward those benefits.

“Our hope is that they’re reopening to allow even more people to give comment,” Colston said. “This proposal puts at risk many of the gains we’ve made in health care.”

Comments can be submitted to:

This story has been updated. 

Visiting Artist Open House – Britany Baker Monday, Aug 1 2016 

Join us for hors d’oeuvres, music, cocktails, and recent artwork from Louisville artist, Britany Baker. This event is free and open to the public. “I strive to make art that encourages introspection, contemplation, and pareidolia, that is fractal and meditative the way nature is. I want to make art that changes and grows with you […]

The post Visiting Artist Open House – Britany Baker appeared first on Lenihan Sotheby's International Realty Blog.

The Prison Builder’s Dilemma: Economics And Ethics Clash In Eastern Kentucky Monday, Aug 1 2016 

You are Letcher County, Kentucky. You are rural, mountainous, and in the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. Your economy is not in good shape. Fox News has called your largest town “the poster child for the war on coal.” You are offered funds to build a new federal prison. It could bring jobs but also brings up troubling moral issues. What do you do?

Call it the prison builder’s dilemma: Letcher County and other rural areas are wrestling with a choice between a potential economic boost and the ethical burden of becoming the nation’s jailers.

Coalfield economies have been hit hard by the industry’s recent decline and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District has been among the most affected. Today it has the second-lowest median household income in the country, and the second-lowest rate of labor force participation.

In recent years, a big chunk of the money flowing into the region has come through the Bureau of Prisons. Three federal penitentiaries have been built in the district, and now, money has been set aside to build a fourth — in Letcher County.

Tarence Ray holds up the left side of a banner protesting plans to build a new prison.Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Tarence Ray holds up the left side of a banner protesting plans to build a new prison.

‘I Don’t Know Anything Better’

Elwood Cornett is a retired educator and preacher of the distinctly Appalachian Old Regular Baptist tradition. More recently, he’s been serving as the head of the Letcher County Planning Commission, and a leader in the effort to bring a federal prison to Letcher County.

These aren’t paid positions, and Cornett said he doesn’t even get reimbursed for his gas money. He said he’s putting his time, money, and effort into this project because he wants to help the people of Letcher County who are having a hard time finding work.

“We’re looking for good-paying jobs,” Cornett said, “and I don’t know anything better for the economy than a federal prison.”

After decades of extracting coal from the most accessible and cost-effective seams, central Appalachia is struggling to compete with coalfields in western states and overseas. Plus, the coal market as a whole is struggling to handle increased pressure from cheaper natural gas and federal regulations.

Letcher County is definitely feeling the downturn. The county has lost over 90 percent of its coal industry jobs since 2000. Those are positions that often paid around $70,000 without requiring a college degree, so they’re really hard to replace.

Rep. Hal Rogers (center) receives a plaque as Elwood Cornett (right) stands alongside. Courtesy office of Rep. Hal Rogers

Rep. Hal Rogers (center) receives a plaque as Elwood Cornett (right) stands alongside.

One thing that Letcher County does have going for it is a congressman who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Hal Rogers has already worked to have three federal prisons built in his district, and as he told the audience at a recent public forum, it’s likely Letcher County will be soon be home to the his district’s fourth.

“There’ll be about 300 new jobs in this county,” Rogers said, “not to mention … it’s a $444 million construction project.”

The Bureau of Prisons has not yet issued a final decision, but the federal budget does include a $444 million allocation. When Rogers asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the prison in a hearing, she replied, “Those funds are going to build a new prison in Kentucky, and I believe it’s going to be in Letcher County.”

You might find it surprising that the government is building new prisons. After all, the U.S. prison population has been in decline since 2009, and polls show most American voters think it ought to keep shrinking.

But after three decades of growth in inmate numbers, seven years of decline haven’t been enough to solve problems of overcrowding. With more than 2.2 million people behind bars, the U.S. has far more prisoners than any other country, topping China by more than a half million, despite having a total population less than one-twentieth of China’s.

‘Doing More Harm Than Good’

Not everyone agrees that the solution is to build more prisons.

Dr. Judah Schept, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies, said the problem of overcrowding is deeply rooted in an over-reliance on prisons. He said the only real solution is to stop putting so many people behind bars and believes the construction of new prisons is a misguided approach.

“It’s not laughable at all,” said Schept, “because we’re putting very poor people in some very bleak and even violent places. But it’s absurd.”

Judah Schept, Professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies.Eastern Kentucky University

Judah Schept, Professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies.

Schept also takes issue with the idea that a prison can help Letcher County’s economy. Schept cited a 2010 study that compared nearly 30 years of employment rates in counties with prisons to their surrounding areas.

The study suggests that prison construction is not a reliable strategy for rural economic development. And when it comes to rural areas like Letcher County that are already struggling, the study did not give reason for hope.

“Our research into employment growth suggests that prisons are doing more harm than good among vulnerable counties,” the authors wrote. Schept said that conclusion lines up with the bulk of what social science research has found about the construction of new prisons.

Cole Dorsey’s Prisoner ID. Dorsey now works on inmate rights.Cole Dorsey

Cole Dorsey’s Prisoner ID. Dorsey now works on inmate rights.

Cole Dorsey has firsthand experience inside prisons. Dorsey said he was incarcerated for starting a riot when he was 13, then was arrested again as a juvenile for heroin use, and then served three years behind bars as an adult for delivering heroin to a police officer.

Dorsey was released in June 2004, and soon he joined a union, which he credits for keeping him away from the habits that got him in trouble. Now, Dorsey is a power line worker and an organizer for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Dorsey said prisons have become an easy solution for too many of society’s issues.

“Because we don’t have jobs and because we don’t have other options for psychiatric or substance abuse issues,” Dorsey said, “our remedy is locking people up, which doesn’t work.”

A Moral Question

Prisons aren’t exactly new in this neck of the woods.

There are 15 prisons within 100 miles of Letcher County. WMMT, the community radio station where I work, is located in Letcher County’s largest town (Whitesburg, population 2,139). Each week, the station airs programming targeted toward listeners who are locked up.

Every Monday night while “Hip-Hop from the Hilltops” is on the air, volunteers take calls from people who have loved ones incarcerated in the area. There’s a toll-free number available, and callers get to record a “shout-out” that gets broadcast right after the hip-hop.

The program, “Calls from Home,” helps prisoners stay connected to their friends and families by offering a free alternative to notoriously expensive prison phone services.

In a typical call, a child’s voice came through the phone: “Hello?”

An older voice coached the child: “Talk! Talk! It’s a shout-out.”

“Oh,” the child continued, “Hi Lucky! I love you, but I want to know when you’re gonna get out!”

Tarence Ray is one of the volunteers behind “Calls from Home.” He’s also involved in a group called the Letcher Governance Project, which has been a leading local voice arguing against building a new prison.

The group made headlines in May, when Ray and others held up signs protesting the prison while Rep. Rogers addressed a large crowd and live television audience at a high-profile regional summit.

View of Letcher County from the top of Pine Mountain.WMMT

View of Letcher County from the top of Pine Mountain.

Ray said that members of the Letcher Governance Project have different reasons for objecting to the plan to build a prison. Ray is skeptical that the prison will have a positive impact on the economy based on the lackluster effect he’s seen in McCreary, Martin, and Clay Counties. Those three nearby counties already have federal prisons.

On the moral front, Ray described construction of a new prison as a part of a larger system that exploits poor people, and especially people of color. His critique of the prison system is similar to that outlined by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander in her book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Alexander’s book drew upon the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that the South’s Jim Crow system told the poor white man “that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.”

Ray said he hears echoes of what King described in the prison debate today. He sees Letcher County as the latest instance of an old pattern in which working-class white people are told they have no choice but to support the oppression of black people.

As Ray described the line of reasoning, “Jobs are gone, coal is gone, what else are you going to do?” He called it “a really perfect encapsulation of what racism in 2016 looks like.”

The Letcher Governance Project launched a social media campaign with the hashtag “#our444million” to gather other ideas for how that amount of money could be spent. Ideas posted on Twitter and Facebook include expanding treatment options to combat the region’s opioid epidemic, supporting local agriculture, and investing in expanded internet access.

But as Elwood Cornett and other prison supporters have pointed out, there’s only one idea that already has $444 million allocated for Letcher County.

Unless the Bureau of Prisons has a sudden change of heart or runs into issues buying the necessary land, it seems likely that this prison will be built. Either way, the people of central Appalachia will continue to debate what role prisons should play in the region’s future.

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