Export prospects have improved in recent months. Commodity prices are generally stronger. That is not to say the stress on the Rural American economy has ebbed much.
Export demand, global monetary and trade policies; so many of the forces that define Rural America are well beyond the reach of those who live there. That's why the federal government remains so important to Rural America.
And this week on an election day Rural America enjoyed a bit more influence than in most years.
The outcome of this week's elections, which handed control of the federal government to the Republicans, largely hinged on results from rural areas. Critical Senate races in Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas all went to the GOP. The president spent the final days of the campaign stumping for Republican candidates in some of those states.
And though the recently enacted farm law was NOT an issue in the campaign, many other policies of rural interest will be affected by the election results.
One of the issues at stake is a $6-billion disaster aid package for drought and flood victims in rural areas. The aid was championed in the current Congress by Democrats, who now are in the minority. The White House offered a smaller $800 million aid plan, which the House said it would consider only after the elections.
The Bush administration also wasted no time in proposing a 60 percent cut in subsidies for biodiesel fuel. Analysts say the reduction could jeopardize the future of the biodiesel industry, as well as a potential growth market for crops like soybeans.
There also were a number of rural-based initiatives and proposed amendments on Tuesday's ballot. In Oregon, voters turned back an initiative to make it the first state to label genetically modified foods. The biotech industry threw some $5 million into a campaign to defeat the initiative, which won only 27 percent of the vote.
And in Florida, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits the confinement of pregnant sows in small cages. While the state only has two hog farms currently using the cages, advocates of the amendment say its passage will prevent large confinement operations from moving into Florida.