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.

The Flood Next Time: Warming Raises The Risk Of Disaster Monday, Jul 25 2016 

People in West Virginia are still recovering from floods that tore through communities like vengeful gods. When you look at the pictures and videos of the June flood – thick, brown, furious, unrelenting – it’s not hard to imagine how our ancestors believed supernatural beings were behind the devastation. Today, of course, we have better insight into the natural forces at work, and science shows us that the damage from nature’s wrath has a lot to do with human behavior.

Cleaning up in a Kanawha County home after West Virginia's flooding disaster.Kara Lofton, WVPB

Cleaning up in a Kanawha County home after West Virginia’s flooding disaster.

The National Weather Service described the West Virginia disaster as a 1000-year event, a term meteorologists use to describe the rare probability of such extreme rains. Many scientists who study the climate, however, warn that our warming atmosphere is increasing the likelihood and severity of flooding disasters. Further, a review of emergency planning shows that while risk of extreme rainfall is on the rise in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, the states are not doing enough to prepare for the rising waters.

The Science

“Data are very clear,” said Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State University. “There is a substantial increase in what we call the intensity of rainfall events,” he said, “which is simply to say, flooding – more extreme and more prevalent flooding.”


NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reported that last month was the warmest June for the U.S since temperature record-keeping began more than a century ago, and 2016 is on track to become the globe’s warmest year ever recorded. Mann explained that our atmosphere is like a sponge, and the warmer it is the more water it can hold.


States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card

“When you squeeze that sponge you’re going to get more intense rainfall events, more intense flooding,” he said. “And the data indicate that this is indeed happening in the U.S.”

A report by NOAA and some sixty other scientific agencies shows that intense rainstorms have increased significantly in many parts of the country over the past half-century. In West Virginia and parts of the northeastern U.S., the proportion of precipitation that comes down in the heaviest storms went up by 71 percent. In Kentucky and Ohio, those heavy storms are up by about a third over the same time period.  And climate forecasts show a strong likelihood that those trends will continue as the planet warms further.

The Cost

That’s bad news for Appalachia, which is the region most prone to flash-flooding in the country, and maybe even the world. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that flooding is the fastest-growing and most costly type of natural disaster across the country and the National Flood Insurance Program is nearly $24 billion in debt. The Federal Emergency Management Agency found that eight weather events in the U.S. have cost more than $13 billion in property losses so far this year, to say nothing of lives lost.

Director of the Office of External Affairs at FEMA, Josh Batkin, said his organization is working to adjust to increasing numbers of disasters.

“We’ve come up with this idea of a ‘disaster deductible’,” Batkin said.

The idea FEMA is developing would have each state pay a predetermined financial commitment in order to receive the public assistance funding made available after disaster declarations. Batkin said this would create another way to reward states for investing in disaster preparedness.

More than 5,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in West Virginia.Kara Lofton, WVPB

More than 5,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in West Virginia.

“We would provide [states] with credit toward their deductible amount for doing what needs to be done to make people safer and to protect infrastructure,” Batkin said.

With other changes going into effect this year FEMA requires an assessment of the risks posed by climate change to be included in the hazard mitigation plans states must submit to the agency. This means states won’t just be considering the threats based on past disasters; the risk analysis will now also account for how climate change could increase future events such as flooding.

Plans are updated on a five-year cycle, with varying deadlines among the states. In Kentucky, for example, the new plan wouldn’t be due until 2018. An independent review of state-level planning and risk indicates that such changes are overdue in the Ohio Valley.

Tomorrow’s Floods

The nonprofit Climate Central, which offers scientific research and information on climate change, produced a report last November called States at Risk: America’s Preparedness Report Card. The report rated states on how well each is preparing for predicted increases in risks, including flooding.

Some states such as Massachusetts scored well. But in the Ohio Valley the risks were high and the marks were low when it came to planning for increased frequency and severity of floods: West Virginia and Ohio got D’s; Kentucky got an F.

floodplain-v6Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

The report found that while the three states have acted to address the current risks to flooding they have done little or nothing in the way of planning and preparedness for the increase in risk that scientists predict. By mid-century the threat of inland flooding is projected to increase by 20 to 25 percent in Ohio and West Virginia if people remain in harm’s way.

In Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia combined, more than 700,000 people live in high-risk areas for flooding. In West Virginia, that means eight percent of the entire state population living in flood-prone places.

Yet the report found that in West Virginia there is no statewide adaptation plan for communities or for sectors such as transportation and health. Further, there was no evidence that the state is implementing any adaptation guidelines or policies in regard to those increased risks for flooding. The report found similar shortcomings in Kentucky and Ohio.

Rising Above

In West Virginia, where June’s flooding killed 23 people and damaged or destroyed more than 5,000 homes and businesses, certified floodplain managers like Charles Baker are taking a hard look at what needs to be done. The steep hills and history of settlements in narrow river valleys naturally puts a lot of people at risk. But Baker said flood-proofing techniques can help some communities become more resilient to flooding.

Eight percent of West Virginians live in areas with an elevated risk of flooding. Submitted photo, courtesy WVPB.

Eight percent of West Virginians live in areas with an elevated risk of flooding.

He pointed out that in many West Virginia communities residents are offered lower flood insurance premiums when they adopt mitigation strategies. Techniques include elevating homes, relocating out of flood hazard areas, or even selling properties to FEMA. Some properties flooded in the past have been purchased and then demolished. The riverbank areas were then left open as parks or green space, which can safely take on high water in the future.

“Not everybody likes permits, not everybody likes regulation,” Baker said, “but we need everybody to realize that when these disasters occur it’s going to save us a lot in trying to rebuild this great state.”

Baker said he thinks West Virginia is on the right path with more than 200 floodplain managers working to lessen the toll from disasters. But he and others cautioned that more could be done and that residents must be mindful of the risks in a warming climate.


Forecastle Festival Continues to Grow and Evolve into 2016 Saturday, Jul 9 2016 

Once upon a time, in July of 2002, a grassroots-organized neighborhood gathering of music, art and activism took place in a quaint little patch of grass in the Fredrick Olmsted-designed Tyler Park. Located in the heart of the Highlands neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky, the first Forecastle was comprised primarily of local artists and musicians who […]

U.S. House Passes $131 Million Bill To Combat Heroin, Opioid Addiction Friday, Jul 8 2016 

The House on Friday passed sweeping legislation — endorsed by Democrats and Republicans — that would flood states with money for opioid and heroin addiction treatment programs.

The White House earlier this week called for $1.2 billion to fund a bill that would include programs to train police officers to administer a drug overdose antidote, expand childcare for mothers in residential treatment, and allow physicians to prescribe more people a drug that treats addiction. The House version of the measure only included $131 million.

But Al Guida, a mental health and substance abuse lobbyist in Washington, said that number is still the biggest chunk of funding for substance abuse treatment in decades.

“That’s probably the largest single commitment to expanding addiction treatment in a generation,” he said.

The legislation heads to the Senate to be approved before Congress recesses at the end of next week.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration created a rule that would allow doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, an addiction antidote, to more people. Currently there is a cap at 100 patients per doctor — the new rule would increase the cap to 275 people. Guida said drugs like these that curb cravings are apart of the medicalization of addiction treatment.

“Like we prescribe antidepressants for people with depression, this product also known as suboxone is like that because it helps you manage symptoms so you can live your life,” Guida said.

The bill would also allow pharmacists to fill a prescription for naloxone, a drug overdose antidote. U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican, said he worked on this provision so that people would have quicker access the antidote. Currently a doctor must prescribe the naloxone.

“Most addicts aren’t criminals,” Guthrie said. “They’re criminals because they’re addicts. They get addicted and then they become criminals because they’re trying to feed their addiction.”

If the measure is approved, money would not be appropriated until later in the fall. Without funds, many of the programs won’t be enacted. Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said it’s about time the federal government is pushing a substantial amount of money to states to help with addiction treatment.

“We’ve been struggling with opioid addiction for well over a decade and for some time now, it felt like the issue wasn’t getting the kind of response we needed,” Ingram said.

In 2015, 1,248 people died in Kentucky of drug overdose. That’s a 7.6 percent increase from the year 2014.

Ingram said that Kentucky has been at the forefront of efforts to curb drug abuse with programs like the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER), which in 2012 mandated all doctors log prescriptions. Since then, there’s been a decrease of 8 percent in oxycodone prescriptions, and a 21 percent decrease in hydrocodone combination drugs.

Pat Fogarty is director of business development at the Healing Place, a six-to-nine-month addiction residential treatment center in Louisville and Campbellsville. Fogarty said funding for programs will make a difference, but he said opioids and heroin are quickly playing a supporting role in the lives of Kentucky addicts. He said 99.5 percent of his facility’s patients who list heroin as their primary drug also list other drugs.

“Meth — we regulated and kept people from buying Sudafed at local Walgreens,” he said. “Fast forward all these years and we’re seeing super high-grade meth that is very inexpensive, coming from Mexico. We can’t just treat for one substance, we have to treat addiction overall.”

This story has been updated. An earlier version misstated the amount of funding authorized in the House bill.

Hardin Memorial Beefs Up Health Care For Newborns Thursday, Jul 7 2016 

Hardin Memorial Hospital is raising its game for sick newborns, adding two pieces of technology to its neonatal unit that expanded just last year.

Last August, Hardin Memorial shored up $500,000 to upgrade its facilities. The latest round of grant funding will pay for a vein viewer — a portable, handheld device that illuminates the tiny veins of newborns — and a cardiorespiratory monitor, a cockpit-like display system that will show each newborn on a central screen.

Hardin Memorial Health Neonatologist Dr. Bridget Hempel monitors a newborn in the Giraffe Omnibed at the Hardin Memorial Health Level II Neonatal Intensive Care UnitCourtesy Hardin Memorial Health

Hardin Memorial Health Neonatologist Dr. Bridget Hempel monitors a newborn in the Giraffe Omnibed at the Hardin Memorial Health Level II Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Nurses currently make rounds between babies in different rooms. Bedside monitors show things like heart and respiratory rates, and oxygen levels. Kara Smith, director of inpatient surgical division at Hardin Memorial, says the difference in a central monitor could mean a baby with a decreasing oxygen rate is tended to even before an alarm goes off.

“If you’re coming through the station you might see on the monitor something doesn’t look right with a baby, even before the alarm system sounds,” Smith says.

The value to having a vein viewer, Smith says, is that nurses will spend less time searching for their patients tiny veins.

“You need access to give antibiotics, fluids, and not having an access could compromise the care of the baby,” Smith says.

There are 16 hospitals in Kentucky that have level 2 units and can provide advanced technology for babies, including ventilators. Hardin Memorial is the only level two neonatal intensive care unit in central Kentucky, which covers 10 counties including Breckinridge, Grayson and Marion. Most hospitals that deliver babies can care for the basic health needs of newborns. A hospital must upgrade to become a level 2, adding things like a 24/7 neonatologist and more advanced equipment.

Neonatal Units in KYAlexandra Kanik |

(Click photo to enlarge)

Smith says the need for the level 2 unit arose with an increase in babies born at Hardin — 1,622 in 2016 — and the pressure parents faced when their infants had to be shipped to hospitals in Louisville, almost an hour from Hardin.

Since the level 2 NICU opened, 140 babies have been born, 82 of those since January.

Scott Matthews, director of maternal child health for Midwest region of March of Dimes, says that having a higher level NICU in a local community can make a huge difference for families.

“You can imagine how upsetting it can be to a family to have a baby who’s born early and then in addition having them transferred outside the community,” Smith says.

He says some things that are beneficial to newborns — like the ability to breastfeed and bond with family —  are much harder if babies are farther away.

“If technology can help keep that baby in the community where the family lives, that can be a much better circumstance,” he says.

There are also seven hospitals with level 3 and 4 neonatal units in Kentucky. But they are concentrated in four counties around Louisville and Lexington. These units can perform surgery, perform transplants and do other advanced procedures on newborns.

The March of Dimes gives out yearly ratings on premature birth rates, a big factor in newborns ending up in NICUs. In 2015, Kentucky got a D rating with a preterm birth rate of 10.7 percent. The March of Dimes is pushing for an 8 percent rate by 2020.

Mary Beth Camp, March of Dimes’ NICU support program coordinator, says it’s important for rural areas to have higher care facilities nearby because it affects the eventual outcome of the baby. Babies who are born just a few weeks early are three times more likely to die in the first year of life compared to full-term infants, and are also twice as likely to die of SIDS than full-term infants, according to the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

“It’s been proven that the more family is involved while the baby is hospitalized, the shorter the length of stay and the better the [health] outcome,” Camp says.


County Highest neonatal unit available
Barren 2
Bell 1
Boone 3
Boyd 3
Boyle 2
Calloway 1
Clark 1
Clay 1
Daviess 2
Fayette 4
Floyd 1
Franklin 2
Graves 1
Grayson 1
Hardin 1
Harlan 1
Harrison 1
Henderson 2
Hopkins 2
Jefferson 4
Johnson 1
Laurel 1
Lawrence 1
Letcher 1
Madison 1
Marion 1
Mason 1
McCracken 2
Montgomery 1
Nelson 1
Oldham 1
Perry 2
Pike 2
Pulaski 2
Rowan 1
Scott 1
Taylor 1
Warren 2
Whitley 2
Source: Kentucky Office of Health Policy, 2014 Annual Hospital Utilization and Services Report
Map by Alexandra Kanik 

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