Utilizing soil test results to maintain garden health

With the help of a grant from the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, students from Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) and staff from the Center for Rural Affairs conducted soil testing on gardens throughout the Santee community.

Samples were taken from 10 different locations, including the demonstration garden located on the NICC campus. Samples were sent to the University of Massachusetts (UMASS) Extension Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Results showed that all locations tested above optimum for potassium, calcium, and magnesium levels, with a few locations testing at optimum levels for phosphorus. Santee’s proximity to the Missouri River and Lewis and Clark Lake makes the results understandable.

A couple of tested locations in Santee were lacking organic matter. These sites were near recent housing construction, where construction crews have removed the topsoil.

Soil testing can seem like a challenging task for the beginning gardener, however, it is a very easy and inexpensive tool for increasing garden productivity. UMASS is just one of the labs that offers mail-in soil testing, with easy-to-follow instructions available online. Instructions include how and where to take the sample, based on the size of the garden. The website also describes how to prepare the soil before mailing it in. The cost for a standard soil test is $15. Results are received via email within a few weeks in an easy-to-understand format. This time frame allows gardeners plenty of time to take a soil sample early in the year, get results, and add amendments, such as minerals or organic matter, before the planting season begins.

Results were discussed during a beginning gardening workshop held at the NICC demonstration garden in May. Soil test reports were mailed to all participants. The Center and NICC will offer a follow-up workshop in the fall to discuss ways to maintain these positive soil test results. Topics will include replenishing nutrients through composting and increasing phosphorus levels — including using traditional applications such as fish bone meal, studying organic matter levels, and increasing organic matter levels during fallow months.

Soil testing is a part of the Community Foods Project, a collaboration between the Center and NICC on the Santee Reservation in Nebraska. The program includes a farmers market, fresh food basket program, demonstration garden and workshops, and a garden advising program.

For more information, check out the Santee Community Foods Project page on our website. If you are interested in soil testing for your garden, visit the UMASS website.

Photos: Soil samples were taken from several sites in Santee this spring. Results showed the soil has above optimum levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Read more about Utilizing soil test results to maintain garden health

  • Small TownsCommunity Food
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REAP Women's Business Center: Eight trainings recently completed, more planned

Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) Women’s Business Center continues to partner with local organizations to offer “Online Marketing Strategies.”

In June, training sessions were held in O’Neill, Valentine, Ainsworth, and Alma.

We also offered a “Facebook for Business” session in Sidney.

One key to business success is accurate and timely recordkeeping. QuickBooks trainings were held in O’Neill and Hartington this spring.

A “Business Plan Basics” course was offered in Walthill in cooperation with the City of Walthill.

More training sessions are coming up in the future.

A session on sales/use tax will be held in Beatrice in September. Marketing Strategies is planned for Hebron in September. QuickBooks will be offered in Atkinson in October.

Check out www.cfra.org/reap/events for more information and additional opportunities.

Feature photo: Presenter Diane Siefkes gives an "Online Marketing Strategies" training in Alma on June 12. The session was presented by Center for Rural Affairs' REAP Women's Business Center and local organizations. | Photo by Monica Braun Read more about REAP Women's Business Center: Eight trainings recently completed, more planned

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Working in a farm successor as part of a retirement plan

Are you one of the many farmers without an identified farm successor? Purdue University says that's around 75 percent, and about half expect nonfamily members to take over. A gradual shift of responsibilities and ownership, plus an extended mentoring period, can help ensure the continued success of the farm business.

After checking out a candidate's experience and references, a short trial period with paid labor can be a good step. This probationary period can help both of you assess how well you work together, how your daily priorities match up, and how you deal with setbacks.

A phased transition plan can follow, based on the goals and capabilities of you and your successor. Responsibilities for farm decisions and management can be shifted gradually or by specific enterprises. Critical elements may be held for later, while new enterprises conceived by the new farmer could be her or his full responsibility and ownership right away.

A written transition plan can ensure that timing and responsibilities are clear. A five-year plan for major progress will tell you if it's working.

A new farmer will benefit from your knowledge of your land and from your experience in the business. Remaining a minority partner or a mentor gives access to your valuable advice. However, there are no guarantees of the farm business surviving the transfer, or indeed, from any year to the next under your control. You have gained skills and have built a business to withstand financial, weather, and market risks. But your successor will be operating in a world with a market and regulatory climate that differs from when you farmed. You have to be prepared to accept that decisions will be made that would not match yours.

The Center for Rural Affairs has resources for retiring and beginning farmers at www.cfra.org/beginning-farmer-rancher.

Check out another blog by Wyatt, "When should farmers retire?" Read more about Working in a farm successor as part of a retirement plan

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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A bright idea: family business installs on-farm solar energy systems in rural Iowa

In early 2013, Jason Egli and his wife, Gabrielle, were living and working as engineers in Cedar Falls, Iowa. They had been trying for years to find jobs that would allow them to move back home to rural Louisa County, but jobs suited to their experience and talents were hard to come by.

That same year, Jason’s cousin, a farmer in Jefferson County, Iowa, asked him to help design and install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system for some of his hog buildings. As a contract feeder, one of the few expenses he could control was his energy bill. At the time, his utility offered a temporary rebate on solar panels. With solar on his buildings, he was able to substantially reduce his electricity costs, taking advantage of available tax credits and depreciation on the panels to lower his tax burden.

Jason and his cousins, Nathan, Ryan, and Mark Porter, installed several solar systems on family members’ farms and quickly began getting calls from neighbors asking for help with their solar installations. EPo Energy was born, and Jason and Gabrielle were able to move back to Louisa County, Iowa.

EPo Energy now has four full-time employee-owners, including Jason and Nathan, and employs 20 to 30 part-time contractors. Among them, the four primary owners have 50+ years of business and farming experience. Although this experience certainly contributes to their success, EPo works hard to build trust within a community where most customers hear about them by word of mouth.

In the four years since this rural, family-owned business formed, it has installed more than six megawatts (MW) of solar in Iowa – about 16 percent of the solar installations in the state. EPo specializes in on-farm solar and helping nonprofit organizations take advantage of this technology. A couple years ago, they helped WACO community school district in Wayland, Iowa, locate investors for a solar project that saves the district the equivalent of a teacher’s salary every year.

Jason explains that the main reason for a farmer to invest in solar is to control electricity costs. An on-farm solar PV system can pay itself back in just a few years, and will lower a farmer’s energy costs for decades. At a time when farmers are subject to increasingly negative stereotypes, Jason says investing in solar is a good way for farmers to demonstrate their commitment to helping solve environmental problems such as poor water quality and global warming.

EPo Energy is on the forefront of an energy revolution that is already bringing economic opportunity, lower electricity costs, and energy choice to rural communities across the country. Policies that invest in tax credits and research help spur this transition. As the market grows, solar energy will drop further in price and become even more accessible. In the meantime, companies like EPo will continue to do what rural businesses do best – serve their communities through innovation, hard work, and leadership. Read more about A bright idea: family business installs on-farm solar energy systems in rural Iowa

  • Clean Energy
  • Farm Policy
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Meet our 2018 Farm Bill team

The upcoming 2018 Farm Bill is in the works and we want your voice heard!

The Center for Rural Affairs has been working diligently to advocate for rural America in a variety of areas including conservation, crop insurance, and beginning farmer assistance.

Congress’ agriculture committees who write the Farm Bill have started hearings already. We expect they will be gearing up to do further work this fall. We’re planning to send you updates as this unfolds and we’ll let you know key times when your legislators need to hear from you.

Today, we’re writing because there are some new faces with the Center for Rural Affairs who are advocating for your interests in the 2018 Farm Bill. Read a little about us and why we care about the Farm Bill!

Iowa staff

Anna is a Policy Program Associate and is leading the Farm Bill and agricultural policy work at the Center for Rural Affairs. She is passionate about supporting family farms and is glad to be advocating for rural communities. Anna is based in our office in Nevada, Iowa. You can contact Anna at 515.215.1294 or annaj@cfra.org.

Lacie is a Policy and Advocacy Organizing Intern based in our Nevada, Iowa, office. She will be a senior at Iowa State University studying Agriculture and Society, and Public Relations. Lacie believes the Farm Bill is invaluable because it not only helps farmers, but also helps many Americans beyond those in agriculture. You can reach Lacie at 515.215.1294 or lacied@cfra.org.

Kansas staff

Jim is a fifth generation farmer in south central Kansas. He has been involved inagricultural advocacy since the mid-1980s. In the past 20 years, he has worked in communications and advocacy for the Kansas Rural Center and Oxfam America. He now serves as the Senior Advocacy Advisor for the Center. He is passionate about a regenerative agriculture that sustains thriving communities and a healthy environment. You can contact Jim at 620.200.0260 or jimf@cfra.org.

Nebraska staff

Cora is a Policy Program Associate focusing on agricultural policy work at the Center for Rural Affairs. As part of the sixth generation on her family farm in Iowa, she understands farming is not only an occupation, but a livelihood. She feels the Farm Bill is important in supporting rural America at its cornerstone—agriculture. Cora is based in our main office in Lyons, Nebraska. You can reach Cora at 402.687.2100 x 1012 or coraf@cfra.org.

Stay tuned for more information regarding the Center’s work for the 2018 Farm Bill.

We value your input and look forward to advocating for your interests in the upcoming Farm Bill. If you would like to share your story with us or learn more about our work, visit us at www.cfra.org or give us a call at 402.687.2100 x 1012. Read more about Meet our 2018 Farm Bill team

  • Crop Insurance Reform
  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Farmers markets increase access to fresh food

There is nothing better than slicing up a ripe garden tomato fresh off the vine. However, some may not have the means to grow fresh vegetables in their backyards.

At the Center for Rural Affairs, we work with rural communities to build healthy, sustainable, local food systems. That includes supporting farmers markets.

Farmers markets expand access to fresh, healthy food in communities that need it most. They provide affordable, competitive prices for low-income families, and many accept food vouchers.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 5,000 farmers markets across the country accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, with the number of new locations increasing at an average 40 percent per year.

Vendors are reaping the benefits. In 2014, 362,477 SNAP households made at least one purchase at a farmers market, according to the National Farmers Market Coalition. That means more families are eating healthy and fresh local fruits and vegetables.

Farmers markets also provide beginning farmers a low-cost way to enter the marketplace and grow their businesses. Small and medium existing farms can supplement their revenue by selling at markets, supporting the sustainability of family farms.

In 2016, the USDA reported 8,675 markets in the country, up from 2,863 in 2000. Many consumers now have the opportunity to eat food grown within a few miles of their homes. And, that money stays in their small towns, helping local economies.

Find your farmers market in USDA’s national directory at www.ams.usda.gov, and join us in celebrating National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 6 to 12. Read more about Farmers markets increase access to fresh food

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Food
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Stephanie Enloe: it has been an honor

Note: We said goodbye to Stephanie at the beginning of July. We wish her well in her future endeavors. 

During the past two and a half years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on some fascinating issues — renewable energy, water quality, Farm Bill policy, and climate change. Now, I’m off to graduate school at Cornell University.

I’ve built relationships with some amazing fellow advocates and rural people. I am consistently in awe of Center supporters’ work ethic, compassion, and creativity. I have loved working for an organization that gets to say we work on behalf of your communities.

Thank you to the Center, to our supporters, and to partner advocates around the country for your dedication to making this country a better place. It has been an honor to learn from and work alongside you. Read more about Stephanie Enloe: it has been an honor

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From the desk of the executive director: people powered capital

Almost weekly, I read surprising new statistics about capital concentration.

The eight richest people in the world now control as much capital as half of the world’s population. The richest 158 families in the United States were the source of more than 50 percent of early cash in the last presidential campaign cycle. The world’s largest company is worth half a trillion dollars.

In a world where fewer and fewer individuals control more and more capital, efforts to rebalance the scales of capital become ever more important. At the Center, we attack this problem through public policy and by operating a revolving loan pool to finance small businesses in rural Nebraska.

Through our Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, the Center makes small business loans to rural people who cannot access capital from traditional sources. Our borrowers are folks who often have poor (or simply no) credit history, are start-up businesses without a track record, or lack traditional collateral that a bank will require.

Our small business loan pool has grown to $6 million in outstanding loans. The loan pool is growing rapidly, with $2 million in new loans placed within the last year. Loans range from $1,000 to $150,000. The growth is a reflection of demand from the field.

Borrowers include individuals such as Ana Gonzalez. Ana always dreamed of starting her own business. Her dream became reality when she opened The Enchanted Bakery in Grand Island, Nebraska, last November. Previously, Ana operated a home-based bakery, but with growing demand, she knew she needed a store front.

The Center was able to assist Ana not only with a loan, but also with training and hands-on help to get the business up and running. In the history of our small business lending, we have placed more than 1,300 loans with borrowers like Ana.

Business ownership remains one of the key ways for individuals to build assets over time. Each small business loan we place is an opportunity to rebalance the scales of capital.

Across the nation, there is a significant unmet need for alternative financing such as ours. We face a world where traditional financial institutions are failing too many average people. A national network of nonprofit and community-oriented lenders are stepping up to fill the gaps.

Each loan — and each nonprofit lender — may seem small relative to the challenge of capital concentration. But mission-driven and community-oriented control of capital will be a key strategy to help everyday rural people build a future for themselves and their communities in the coming decades. Read more about From the desk of the executive director: people powered capital

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Provide for cover crops in insurance guide

Farmers manage crops, maintain equipment, and market products, often while balancing a second job and family demands.

Adding a dispute with a crop insurance company is the last thing farmers need.

Kevin Glanz, a farmer near Manchester, Iowa, has planted cover crops for five years. Cover crops are usually grasses or legumes planted between crop rotations to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, and help soil quality.

Last year, his crop insurance agent raised concerns. After three in-person inspections as part of a quality control audit, Kevin understood if he filed a claim in the fall, his loss may not be covered due to a cover crop practice.

Crop insurance is managed by the federal government, which underwrites policies. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has established “Good Farming Practices” to help define good crop management and stewardship.

However, “Good Farming Practices” does not address cover crops, so there is an additional set of guidelines that direct when farmers should terminate cover crops before planting their main crop to remain eligible for crop insurance.

In 2015, the government spent nearly $8 billion on administering crop insurance, including support for farmers’ crop insurance bills (or premiums), indemnities, and expense reimbursement to crop insurance companies.

Congress is beginning work on the next farm bill, and we urge our elected representatives to consider policies that encourage crop insurance companies to support conservation practices, such as cover crops.

Farmers and good stewards like Kevin need to know they can depend on their crop insurance. Read more about Provide for cover crops in insurance guide

  • Crop Insurance Reform
  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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One dream: to farm in America

Daily life on a farm outside Lexington, Nebraska, is far from luxurious. However, Vicente Acevedo and Magdalena Barrios wouldn’t have it any other way.

“A typical day: I come home from work, prepare dinner, clean the house, and then I go outside to help feed the animals,” Magdalena said. “There is never a day off. I would rather be at the farm than go out to a party.”

Farming is life for this couple. Both grew up on ranches in rural Mexico — Vicente raising animals and Magdalena helping to cultivate beans and corn.

They immigrated to the United States with a dream: to continue farming.

To accomplish their plans, last year the couple visited their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to apply for a loan to purchase land. However, they came up against a language barrier.

FSA Farm Loan Manager Matthew Meyer knew the Center for Rural Affairs helped beginning Latino farmers and encouraged Vicente and Magdalena to contact us.

Center for Rural Affairs staff Lucia Schulz and Kirstin Bailey were happy to help. They interpreted and assisted with financial statements and business plans.

Vicente and Magdalena were approved for an FSA loan. But assistance didn’t stop there. Center staff shared information on other services offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Farming is our life,” Magdalena said. “If there’s production, whether it’s livestock or produce, there’s progress. We love it.”

Their children also enjoy life on the farm and help with daily chores, similar to what Vicente and Magdalena did when they were children — Magdalena on a ranch near Jerez de Garcia Salinas, Zacatecas, Mexico, and Vicente on a ranch near his birthplace of Tepetongo, Zacatecas, Mexico.

Working with animals was Vicente’s favorite part of farm life as a child, and remains so to this day.

To start their operation near Lexington, he purchased a few calves.

“We enjoyed bottle feeding them,” he said. “Eventually we bought cows and liked it even more.”

Working with Lucia and Kirstin and attending beginning farmer classes has set Vicente and Magdalena on a path toward their ultimate goals.

“The Center turned our desires into reality,” Vicente said.

Now, Vicente and Magdalena have plans to start a rotational grazing operation.

“Our future plan is to continue raising animals and continue to work off the farm,” Vicente said. “If we don’t, we won’t be able to expand our farm. We will continue to care for our land, so it can give us good results.”

The number of cattle under their care is growing, and they hope to raise even more next year.

“A lot of people are in fear because they don’t know or don’t believe that they can do it,” Vicente said. “Everyone should attend the Center’s classes. The Center has opened our eyes. Dreams do come true.”

Feature photo: Vicente Acevedo and Magdalena Barrios welcome Dawson County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) agents to their farm last fall. NRCS helped them design a rotational grazing system for their small herd of cattle with conservation in mind. From left: Kevin Gill, NRCS; Vicente; Lucia Schulz, Center for Rural Affairs; Magdalena; and Janelle Taubenheim, NRCS. | Photo by Kirstin Bailey Read more about One dream: to farm in America

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
  • Small TownsInclusion
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Supporting rural America and the Center

Wow, this year is flying by! It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the New Year. Together, in the first half of 2017 we accomplished so much because of generous support from donors like you. Thank you.

Recent exciting developments make it possible for your giving to have an even greater effect. Please consider these options as you think about fall and holiday giving.

Your IRA: Last December, the IRA charitable rollover was made permanent. If you are older than 70½ years old, you can give up to $100,000 directly from your IRA. Funds are transferred tax free, making your impact greater. Additionally, since you never possess those funds, they aren’t reported as income to you. This may decrease your taxes on other earnings. Giving directly from your IRA (especially if you have a required minimum distribution) is a great way to increase your impact, reap immediate tax benefits, and fulfill your annual charitable goals.

Appreciated stock: With the stock market at an all-time high, now is a good time to consider gifts of appreciated stock. The Center accepts stock transfers.

Giving stock directly instead of selling to make a contribution can have financial advantages. When you donate appreciated stock, you can take the stock’s full market value as a tax deduction and avoid capital gains tax you would owe if the stock was sold.

Grain/livestock/commodities: Transferring legal ownership of grain or livestock to the Center instead of selling them to make a gift provides you with significant tax savings. Example: If you gift 1,000 bushels of corn at a $3 market price, you’d reduce your taxable income by $3,000. Since you never possess those funds, they aren’t reported as income to you. This may decrease your taxes on other earnings, and you can still deduct production costs of the bushels donated. To make a gift, you must notify both the Center and your buyer before the goods are sold.

Charitable gift annuities: A charitable gift annuity can provide a guaranteed income stream for you, your spouse, or another individual with immediate charitable tax deductions, tax-free income, and increased annual income. The Center offers charitable gift annuities with a minimum value of $10,000. When an annuity is established, the Center agrees to provide quarterly or annual payments to the beneficiary(s) for life. These payments can start immediately or be deferred to start on a certain date to provide income following life changes, such as retirement or college enrollment.

These giving methods can significantly increase your gift’s impact and potentially provide tax benefits. I hope you’ll consider them this fall.

We at the Center and everyone else who cares deeply about rural America thank you for your support. We are inspired by your dedication to providing a stronger and brighter future for rural America.

Feature photo: Transferring legal ownership of grain or livestock to the Center for Rural Affairs is just one way you can support our work while saving on taxes. | Photo by Wyatt Fraas Read more about Supporting rural America and the Center

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The cost of doing away with USDA Rural Development

Over the years, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants and loans have served as a lifeline for rural communities, providing critical funding for water and wastewater infrastructure, public and community buildings, and essential community service facilities. Yet the president’s proposed budget zeros out allocations for Rural Development, leaving small towns with few options and bleak prospects for continued growth.

Without Rural Development’s services, many small communities will have to put off infrastructure or facility projects. However, “the cost of doing nothing is as costly as the project itself,” said Terry Meier, community development specialist with JEO Consulting Group.

When necessary projects are left on the drawing board, the quality of life in a small town is impacted along with its economic prospects.

Rural Development’s loans, grants, and technical assistance help communities fill resource gaps and address quality of life challenges. Funding opportunities are primarily directed toward towns and villages with fewer than 20,000 residents.

“These programs are used to cost-share improvements so projects are more affordable to residents in rural areas,” Meier said. “Smaller communities have fewer people in which to spread the cost of the debt. Without these programs, it would be highly unlikely that rural and lower-income communities could build or modify their community center, develop trails, build parks, make costly infrastructure improvements in their downtown areas, or upgrade their aged municipal water or wastewater system.”

Meier recently worked with the village of Oakdale, Nebraska, to leverage USDA Rural Development funding to assist with a water improvement project. The Antelope County village of 322 residents received nearly half of the project cost from USDA. The village developed a new groundwater supply well, replaced water mains, and installed new water meters. With the completion of the upgrade, the community was able to address a significant water loss issue in addition to modernizing the water system. Ultimately, these repairs and upgrades will provide water and cost savings for residents.

For many communities like Oakdale, a project totaling more than a half million dollars would be out of reach through traditional funding sources.

“USDA Rural Development cannot compete against conventional financing,” Meier notes. “In order to apply for USDA assistance, the applicant must have been turned down by their fiscal agent or local bank for conventional financing at a reasonable rate.”

This means Rural Development funding is only targeted to communities that most need assistance.

Should the president’s budget eliminating Rural Development be passed, communities will have to assume greater debts, and will pass those along to residents. This will place a particularly heavy burden on rural communities with declining populations, lower-income residents, and fixed-income seniors. Property values would decline and infrastructure needs would be unfulfilled.

“Local government leaders will have to make difficult decisions about the priority needs of the community, while remaining fiscally responsible to their constituents,” said Meier.

Feature photo: The village of Oakdale, Nebraska, recently developed a new groundwater supply well, replaced water mains, and installed new water meters. USDA Rural Development funded nearly half of the project. | Photo by DeManda McGowen Read more about The cost of doing away with USDA Rural Development

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Medicaid cuts hurt rural seniors and rural communities

Tucked within the text of both the House and Senate’s bills to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is language which seeks to fundamentally change the Medicaid program. While the enactment of this legislation is unknown, the principle remains, and rural seniors would be hurt.

For rural states and regions that already encounter the health care challenges of an older, poorer and less healthy population, Medicaid allows access to care to remain for even those who are not enrolled under the entitlement.   

In our nation’s rural areas, 15 percent of residents over the age of 65 are on Medicaid. Yet, 36 percent of total Medicaid expenditures pay for costs accrued by Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65. Of this Medicaid spending for seniors, a significant portion covers long-term care costs – three in five nursing home residents.

Remove Medicaid from the payer source for rural seniors and entire communities are left to suffer. Nursing homes not only provide care to seniors but are major employers in rural communities. Without Medicaid reimbursements to cover the costs of care, closures and accompanying job losses would become yet another casualty of Medicaid cuts.

While the reliance upon Medicaid reimbursements to keep the doors of nursing homes open is not ideal, it is a reality for rural communities. Before Congress makes sweeping changes to Medicaid, senators and representatives need to step back and acknowledge the broader costs that will be paid just outside of the city limits.


Note: We sent this weekly column to Nebraska with state-specific numbers. If you have questions about numbers your state, please contact me.

In Nebraska’s rural counties, and comparable to the state as a whole, 10.2 percent of residents over the age of 65 are on Medicaid. Yet, 42 percent of total Medicaid expenditures pay for costs accrued by Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65. Of this Medicaid spending for seniors, a significant portion covers long-term care costs – one in two nursing home residents. Read more about Medicaid cuts hurt rural seniors and rural communities

  • Rural Health
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Female catheterization product wins Nebraska InnovateHER 2017 Challenge

Problem: The anatomy of the female pelvic region makes women particularly susceptible to inappropriate urethral catheterization. To date, there are no devices that block the vaginal entrance, expose the urethral opening, and guide the catheter.

Solution: Sonia Rocha-Sanchez and Michael Feloney have designed and obtained a full non-provisional patent on a female catheterization assisting device that blocks the vaginal entrance, exposes the urethral opening, and guides the catheter into the female urethra.

The device, called SimplCath, was the focus of the winning presentation at the Nebraska InnovateHER 2017 Challenge hosted by The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) Women’s Business Center.

Sonia and Michael are owners of F&S Medical Solutions, a start-up company, with a primary goal of improving the lives of women and men by offering new approaches to solving old problems.

“Because women's products are a significant part of what we do, entering InnovateHER seemed like the perfect course to follow,” Sonia said. “SimplCath, the device we used in the competition, is an incredibly novel but simple medical device designed specifically for women, which, when brought to market, will improve the lives of millions.”

SimplCath can be used by medical personnel and caregivers, as well as patients who self-catheterize. It comes as a disposable item to be used in hospitals, nursing homes, or clinical environments, and as a reusable device to be used at home.

“It is the only device on the market to assist on women catheterization in any setting,” Sonia said. “When we won, we felt validated that the judges believed in our product and most importantly we felt honored for representing Nebraska.”

About InnovateHER

The duo of Sonia and Michael was among three finalists who participated in InnovateHER, a marketing pitch competition, in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 2. This is the third year of competition in cooperation with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

InnovateHER calls on businesses which develop a product or service that 1) has a measurable impact on the lives of women and families; 2) has the potential for commercialization; and 3) fills a need in the marketplace.

“InnovateHER provides an opportunity for participants to gain valuable input and feedback on their innovative business ideas even if they are not selected to move forward to national competition,” said Monica Braun, REAP Women’s Business Center director.

The winner’s application was entered into the national competition, which is a second marketing pitch event. SBA officials will identify 10 finalists to compete for cash prizes totaling $70,000.

Other finalists competing in Lincoln were Kate White with Third Space Coworking and Childcare and Carina Glover of Ace Empire, a business magazine. All three businesses are based in Omaha.

“The competition felt a little like ‘Shark Tank,’ but friendlier,” said Sonia. “The judges were very professional and asked excellent questions. Their comments after the presentation were very positive and their critique was very well-taken. We could tell they knew business a lot more than we did.”

Sonia added, “We would like to thank you for promoting such a unique competition, supporting women health, and providing opportunities for small business such as ours.” Read more about Female catheterization product wins Nebraska InnovateHER 2017 Challenge

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Ruth helps neighbors by serving on the FSA Committee

About six years ago, Nebraska farmers Ruth Ready and her husband Sid stopped into their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office to ask about loan programs and opportunities.

While there, Ruth was presented with an altogether different opportunity.

“They were looking for someone from my area to run for the FSA committee,” she said. “I did, was elected, and started on the board the following January.”

Committee members help deliver FSA farm programs at a local level. Elected by local farmers and ranchers, their job is to make FSA agricultural programs serve the needs of their local producers. They oversee such programs as the Conservation Reserve Program and the CRP Transition Incentives Program and farm loan programs, among others.

“We make sure the policy is applied fairly, that sort of thing,” Ruth said. “Basically, we’re the people who are supposed to know what’s going on out in the county.”

The Committee is also responsible for hiring the FSA county executive director, and meets with them at least once per year. County executive directors generally depend on committee members to keep them up-to-date on what’s going on in the areas they represent.

“When we implemented the Livestock Indemnity Program, we helped our executive director understand how a disaster happened for the farmers who were applying,” Ruth said. “For example, we had a flash flood in one area, and a producer lost a lot of livestock. The executive director didn’t quite understand how it happened.”

Ruth, and others who lived adjacent to the person, explained that the area received five inches of rain in two hours which caused the flash flood.

“They (the County Executive Director) just can’t know otherwise,” she said. In that case, “we told the executive director, ‘they're not taking advantage and it’s not poor management.’ We hope to apply common sense to one-size-fits-all rules.”

USDA finalized rules in 2012 that required that the composition of FSA county committees fairly represent the local producer population, including socially-disadvantaged producers. Nationally, these groups include women, African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. As a woman, Ruth’s service with her local FSA committee helps ensure that her local farming population is fairly represented.

But Ruth’s decision to serve came from her family history. Ruth’s father had also served on the county committee several years ago, when FSA was still called the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS). After watching her father serve, it was an easy decision for Ruth to step up.

Through her experiences with the FSA - her family history, utilizing the services for herself and her husband, and through being a committee member - Ruth encourages others to run for the committee.

“If you’re interested in being elected, talk to your local office and tell them you’ve heard about it and want to be a part of it,” she said. “People don’t always know that this thing exists, especially if they’re new to working with FSA. I had the experience of my father serving and understood the commitment.”

The nomination period to run for an FSA county committee began June 15 and runs through Aug. 1, 2017. To nominate someone, or if you would like to get involved, visit your local FSA office or go to http://www.fsa.usda.gov/elections to obtain a nomination form and learn more about upcoming deadlines.

Voting will take place from Nov. 6 to Dec. 4, 2017. Voting is important for all farmers and ranchers, whether you have large or small operations. Your input is pivotal in deciding who communicates with and has a direct link between rural farm communities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Policy Associate Anna Johnson contributed to this story.

Feature photo: As an FSA committee member, Ruth Ready explained a flash flood that took out a lot of her neighbor's livestock. | Photo by ellenamani / Adobe Stock Read more about Ruth helps neighbors by serving on the FSA Committee

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