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Farmer Terry Davidson walks through his soy fields in Harvard, Illinois. Photo: Nova Safo/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. farmers in the Midwest are filing for bankruptcy at levels the U.S. hasn’t seen for approximately a decade, the Wall Street Journal reports.

What's happening: Low commodity prices have been gouging U.S. farmers’ bottom lines for years now, exacerbated by increasing agricultural competition from Russia and Brazil. President Trump’s trade disputes, meanwhile, are adding salt to the wounds, as tariffs drive down prices and decrease profit for farmers.

By the numbers:

  • In the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, twice as many farmers declared bankruptcy in 2018 as during the 2008 recession.
  • In the 8th Circuit, which spans from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies shot up 96%.
  • In the 10th Circuit, which includes Kansas, Colorado and parts of Oklahoma, bankruptcies were up 59%. Together, these three jurisdictions accounted for nearly 50% of all farm product sales in 2017, per the Journal.
  • Last year, farm debt rose to over $409 billion, with the average size of loans in the 4th quarter reaching $74,190, the highest 4th quarter level in history.

Between the lines: Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings are still below the highs of 2010 when looking at nationwide numbers. But the Midwest is hurting, and even though the Trump administration has been rolling out federal government relief for farmers to make up for tariff damage, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle fear it is only a short-term, partial solution.

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Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).

Cuomo: "I am not going to resign"

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologized Wednesday for acting in a way that made women feel "uncomfortable," but insisted that he has "never touched anyone inappropriately" and said he will not resign.

Driving the news: Cuomo reiterated in his first public appearance since sexual harassment allegations surfaced that he will fully cooperate with a team of independent investigators appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, but suggested that demands for his resignation from were simply "politics."