2017 Annual Report & 2018 Wall Calendar

This 2018 calendar illustrates month-by-month the accomplishments you helped us achieve in 2017. With your help, small businesses are open and expanding; food systems are created and thriving; and rural people across the country are making their voices heard. Your donations and your actions helped lift the future of the Center and the people we serve. Read more about 2017 Annual Report & 2018 Wall Calendar

Rural Nebraska's access to broadband internet up for discussion in the Unicameral

Access to high speed internet is essential to ensuring equitable quality of life in the modern economy. Two legislative bills introduced this week by Sen. Lynne Walz, of Fremont, seek to close the digital divide in Nebraska.

Currently, the ability for public entities to work with private companies on the installation of fiber optic cable required for broadband internet access is mired by regulation. LB 1113 introduced by Sen. Walz and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Briese, of Albion, would eliminate these restrictions.

Internet service providers are eager to work in partnership with rural communities and counties to improve access. With the passage of this legislation, municipalities could lay and lease fiber directly if they have a private partner in place to provide the services, at a cost savings to the community, service provider, and the customer.

Also fundamental to the expansion of high speed internet access for rural areas is the ability to pinpoint where service is and is not available. LB 1114 seeks to reinstate requirements for the reporting of broadband service access at a more granular level.

Current reporting standards allow for telecommunications services to be reported at the census block level, which for many rural areas of Nebraska, span entire counties. For example, residents in Taylor may have high speed access, but that does not mean there is access across all of Loup County. Enhanced reporting will provide service providers and municipalities with a more accurate depiction of where investments and build outs are needed.

Funding opportunities and legislative changes are key to the extension of internet access to all residents. The ability to expand broadband access in the state’s rural communities expands social and economic opportunities for Nebraskans.

The Center for Rural Affairs recognizes the opportunities expanded rural broadband service affords, and has endorsed both LB 1113 and LB 1114. Read more about Rural Nebraska's access to broadband internet up for discussion in the Unicameral

  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Weekly column

Keeping communities vibrant through forward thinking

Jordan Feyerherm and Carlos Barcenas co-wrote this blog.

For hundreds of years, immigration has shaped U.S. history. And, it continues to shape America, especially in rural areas. Jordan and Carlos recently sat down to chat about our inclusion work.

What does inclusion mean?

Inclusion is making sure everyone in the community has a chance to participate and knows how to participate. It’s welcoming new people to the community and helping them access resources.

We’re talking about biases, so we can successfully navigate those and not let those influence decisions. We know immigration plays a big role in the inclusion conversation, but we’re not only focusing on ethnic diversity. Instead, maybe the issue is about religion, gender, or generational differences. There is more to diversity than ethnic diversity.

It’s not an agenda to teach one side to work with the other. Our goal is to empower community leaders to identify biases and set up plans to intentionally work on leadership.

How do conversations begin with community leaders?

It’s not an easy task. We’re encouraging leaders to have uncomfortable, comfortable conversations. How do we move forward in order to make our communities stronger?

We’re finding there are a lot of differences among residents. Differences are what make each community vibrant. We’re trying to explore those and celebrate them.

We are not experts. You cannot change a community without changing the individual, so that conversation has to start at the individual level.

Conversations begin with, “It’s OK to have biases. We all do.” Then we ask, “Is this bias preventing you from becoming a better leader, or from making better decisions that affect your community?” We let the community drive the conversation.

Has the national political climate affected this work?

Yes. The immigration and inclusion conversation has changed in the last year, along with the national political climate. Before the president was elected, we saw the race conversation pushed forward. As soon as Trump was elected, there was almost a complete shift.

People don’t want to talk about it anymore. They are not as curious or open to talking about race, diversity, and inclusion. We also see more people justifying their prejudice and their bias. We see more acts of pushback.

What is on the horizon?

Conversations about inclusion are some of the most challenging things, especially in a community climate where the conversation seems to be dominated by one group.

How can we sit down, behind closed doors if needed, to say, “How do we move forward and challenge our own bias, our biases?”

The demographics are changing in rural America. And, in a lot of rural communities, people are asking how they can keep their small towns vibrant.

Being forward-thinking about how we approach future problems is a big part of keeping rural areas vibrant.

Feature photo: In March 2017, we hosted a conversation about inclusion and immigration in York, Nebraska, featuring community leaders from Hastings and Fremont, and staff member Lucia Schulz. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Keeping communities vibrant through forward thinking

  • Small TownsInclusion
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A Discrepancy in Rural Nebraska’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food assistance to 1 in 7 Americans, and 1 in 11 Nebraskans. This white paper by Jordan Rasmussen, policy program associate, examines “A Discrepancy in Rural Nebraska’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).” Read more about A Discrepancy in Rural Nebraska’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Women’s Business Center Kicks off 16th year

Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) Women’s Business Center is kicking off its 16th year as a program of the Center for Rural Affairs.

We continue to partner with local organizations to offer learning opportunities throughout the state.

Recently, “Online Marketing Strategies” sessions were held in Hebron and Central City, with sessions scheduled for Plattsmouth and Wood River in the near future.

“Facebook for Business” was offered in Central City, and “Top Ten LinkedIn Tips” was held in Lincoln in collaboration with Community Development Resources.

A key to business success is accurate and timely recordkeeping. QuickBooks sessions were held in Walthill, Scottsbluff, Norfolk, Atkinson, Kimball, Chadron, and Ainsworth. Sessions are planned for Neligh, Red Cloud, and O’Neill.

A “Business Plan Basics” course was offered in Loup City in cooperation with the Central Nebraska Economic Development District and Sherman County Economic Development.

Two “Sales/Use Taxes” sessions were held in Beatrice in September.

Click here for an list of training opportunities. This list is updated frequently, so check back often.

Feature photo: Presenter Diane Siefkes gives a “Facebook for Business” training in Central City. The session was presented by the Center for Rural Affairs’ REAP Women’s Business Center and local organizations. | Photo by Monica Braun Read more about Women’s Business Center Kicks off 16th year

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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Growing number of concentrated animal feeding operations raises water quality concerns

At a time when people feel incredibly divided and polarized, some issues still resonate across the spectrum. In rural areas, these issues include eminent domain, farm profitability, and viable, vibrant rural communities. Another issue increasingly joining this group in Iowa is the widespread growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). A CAFO is defined as an agricultural enterprise where animals are raised in confinement, with a minimum of 1,000 animal units (which is 700 dairy cows, 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 hogs, or 30,000 chickens) confined for 45 days per year.

In my first few months working on water quality in Iowa, I have asked people what their top concerns are. You can share your concerns, too, by taking our water quality survey here. Over and over, people are concerned about CAFOs and how their continued growth threatens rural water supplies all over the state.

I remember very clearly how raising hogs changed in the mid-1990s, because it was part of my childhood. Everyone in our rural area raised hogs, and my cousins and I would play in the small A-frame sheds that provided shelter for grazing hogs, hornet’s nests and all. All of that changed when the hog market crashed in 1998. The rise of large, corporate farms flooded the market with an oversupply of market hogs, depressing prices, and pushing small farmers out of business. Within a few years, all of our neighbors stopped raising hogs and were replaced by one large confinement selling manure as fertilizer for pennies on the acre.

Fast forward 20 years – Iowa leads the country with more than 3,500 CAFOs, as defined under the Clean Water Act. To put it in perspective, neighboring states have far less and face stricter regulations (See Table). Minnesota has the second highest number of CAFOs with 1,300. Wisconsin has 288, and Illinois has 279.

The rising number of CAFOs has coincided with the rise of impaired waterways across the state. More than half of the tested water bodies in Iowa are impaired. When North Carolina saw similar impacts in their water quality as CAFOs expanded across the state, they imposed a moratorium on any new sites in 1997. They adapted the rules 10 years later with strict constrictions. Now, they have 1,222 CAFOs, a boundary Iowa has blown past long ago.

Iowans take pride in their agricultural heritage and success, and they are good at raising hogs. But, it comes at a cost and a sacrifice. Other states have drawn lines around what they are willing to pay to have a thriving livestock industry. And, Iowa has not – which is a reflection of our values. But, is it an honest reflection?

Table: Total number of CAFOs and number under federal permit in 2016 for EPA Region 7 states.

Feature photo: Adobe Stock/Dario Sabljak Read more about Growing number of concentrated animal feeding operations raises water quality concerns

  • EnvironmentWater
  • Farm PolicyCorporate Farming
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Beginning farmers stand to benefit from proposed act

The average age of today’s farmer is 58 years old. Over the course of the next five years (the duration of the next farm bill), nearly 100 million acres of farmland are predicted to change hands.

Some retiring farmers and ranchers will pass their land and operations to their children or other relatives, however, many are heading toward retirement without a succession plan in place.

Today’s beginning farmers juggle a great deal in raising and marketing crops and livestock. We need to support policies that ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to be successful.

In November, congressional lawmakers introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act to ensure the 2018 farm bill focuses on the future of American agriculture. The bill provides for programs and policies that would create opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

The bill expands beginning farmer and rancher access to affordable land; empowers producers with the skills needed to succeed in today's agricultural economy; ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance; and encourages commitment to conservation and land stewardship.

We stand with congressional sponsors of this legislation in supporting beginning farmers and ranchers. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act should be included in the 2018 farm bill. Read more about Beginning farmers stand to benefit from proposed act

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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Beginning veteran farmers benefit from proposed tax credit

A veteran’s sense of service and work ethic draws a distinct parallel to the skills and dedication required for successful farming and ranching. However, access to the land and financial resources needed to transition from military service to farming can be a challenge.

Last week, state lawmakers introduced the Beginning Veteran Farmer Tax Credit that could provide an incentive to those veterans. The bill seeks to expand Nebraska’s existing beginning farmer tax credit program by adding a 1 percent incentive for property and landowners who rent to a qualified beginning veteran farmer.

Under current statute, a 10 percent tax credit on cash rent, or 15 percent credit on the value of a sharecrop or cow-calf share rent, is available to the property owner when they rent to a qualified beginning farmer. The proposed revision would increase the incentive to 11 percent and 16 percent if the property is rented to a qualified beginning veteran farmer.

By encouraging agricultural property owners to rent to veterans, they are more readily able to pursue farming. As farmers and landowners look to transition their operations, renting to a beginning veteran farmer is not only an investment in an individual but also an investment in rural communities and the state’s economy.

The Beginning Veteran Farmer Tax Credit was introduced by Sen. Carol Blood as part of the Military Families Initiative for Nebraska legislative package.

The Center for Rural Affairs understands the challenges beginning veteran farmers and ranchers face, and has endorsed the Beginning Veteran Farmer Tax Credit. Read more about Beginning veteran farmers benefit from proposed tax credit

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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Browse agricultural loans by state in updated directory

A newly updated online directory outlines 83 individual programs that assist beginning and first-time farmers, existing family farm operations, and agribusiness firms.

Agricultural loan programs, including those for beginning farmers, are listed in the newly updated directory of state agricultural loan programs, available free online here.

This directory is updated every few years by the National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs and the Council of Development Finance Agencies. The state-by-state listings include aggie bond loans, beginning farmer tax credit programs, and many other targeted agricultural loan programs.

Our website discusses farm startup financing strategies in addition to the directory's list. Click here for our beginning farmer resources. Read more about Browse agricultural loans by state in updated directory

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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The Sunflower State – Assessing Our Business Garden

To ensure business owners are offered the products and services they need, it is imperative to simply ask. Business needs change as the economy shifts and technology modernizes, and entrepreneurs fluctuate in interests, financial situations, and energy levels. As citizens, large business owners, and business lenders and providers, we need to pay attention to those needs and assist if we want our downtowns, communities, and local economies to thrive. Read more about The Sunflower State – Assessing Our Business Garden

Staff spotlight: Eberle serves east central small businesses

The Center for Rural Affairs recently hired Craig Eberle, of Bradshaw, Nebraska, as a small business loan specialist.

Eberle’s role is to work with new and existing small businesses to help them develop business plans, obtain funding, and receive training.

“I look forward to working with small businesses; helping them either expand their existing business, or start a new business,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to work with individuals who live and work in rural Nebraska.”

Eberle brings 18 years of agricultural, consumer, commercial, and residential lending experience to the Center’s small business program, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP). Eberle was most recently assistant director and business loan officer at the Southeast Nebraska Development District.

Gene Rahn, interim REAP staff manager and senior loan specialist, said Eberle will be a valuable asset to the the team.

“Craig brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the Center for Rural Affairs,” he said. “He is working on getting to know his region and the individuals involved with small business activities in east central Nebraska.”

Eberle serves the east central region of Nebraska including Boone, Butler, Colfax, Dodge, Garfield, Greeley, Hall, Hamilton, Howard, Merrick, Nance, Platte, Polk, Saunders, Seward, Sherman, Washington, Wheeler, Valley, and York counties.

Eberle grew up near Bradshaw, Nebraska, where his family raised hogs, corn, and soybeans. He recently returned to the area with his wife, to raise their four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, and to help on the family farm.

He can be contacted at his home office outside of Bradshaw at 402.736.4417 or craige@cfra.org. Read more about Staff spotlight: Eberle serves east central small businesses

  • Small Business
  • Small BusinessREAP
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2018 Iowa Legislative policy priorities

In 2017, we developed an active presence on Iowa state policy. Our priority issues included clean energy and water quality. We collaborated with coalition partners, developed relationships with key legislators, and engaged Iowa supporters.

Relevant developments concerning priority legislation will be shared via Iowa Legislative Update emails. Email info@cfra.org to sign up for updates.

Clean energy

Iowa’s solar tax credit provides a 50 percent match with federally available credits. The state tax credit is a temporary, capped credit that successfully supports the emerging market of solar energy. In 2017, the credit was decreased from $5 million per year to $4 million per year.

Solar has become increasingly popular in rural Iowa, leading several incumbent utilities and conservative lawmakers to transfer resources away from clean energy programs to address a growing budget deficit. This trend was evident in 2017, and will continue into 2018. 

In this session, we anticipate additional attacks on distributed energy and net metering. We will oppose efforts to erode clean energy policies that have been particularly beneficial in rural Iowa. We will fight to protect against further cuts to clean energy funding in 2018.

Water quality

In 2017, we supported smart tax policy to fund Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which would create a new, permanent funding stream for water quality. Water quality and watershed management bills were introduced in both the Senate and the House that included provisions to reappropriate funding from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund for in-field and edge-of-field practice installation. Ultimately, legislators were unable to pass a bill.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has stated she wants a water quality bill to be the first bill she signs as governor. Many of the organizations that collaborated to form Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) coalition will push for progress.

Water quality remains a significant challenge in Iowa. The state has been unwilling to provide funding and technical assistance needed to make progress. One package of legislation introduced in 2017 embraced a “watershed approach,” incorporating accountability and directing resources toward areas most in need of support. An alternative package from 2017 would give more funding to water quality but in a less structured way. It is believed that some form of these packages will pass in 2018. The question remains which one, how quickly, and with how much debate.

What do you think?

Let us know your input on these priorities and tell us about other state issues that are important to you. Are you interested in writing a letter to your legislator or even testifying at the state capitol? Contact Katie Rock at katier@cfra.org or 515.215.1294. Read more about 2018 Iowa Legislative policy priorities

  • Clean Energy
  • EnvironmentWater
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2018 Nebraska Legislative policy priorities

Elected representatives in Nebraska will debate a host of contentious issues during the 2018 legislative session, including economic development, budget and tax, health care, energy and environment, and food and agriculture.

Relevant developments concerning priority legislation will be shared via Nebraska Legislative Update emails. Email info@cfra.org to sign up for updates.

Economic development

In 2017, two bills addressed the broadband shortage in rural areas. The first modifies and expands the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund. The second appropriated an increase in funding. While the former remains in committee, the latter did not receive support during a very difficult budget cycle.

The Rural Broadband Task Force has conducted several meetings, and the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee recently concluded a series of field hearings. Both are working to build consensus among stakeholders and identify policy solutions that do not require a significant increase in state funding.

Rural broadband will be a focal point. Nebraska was an early adopter of the Universal Service Fund, and is unique among states in the amount of wireless access that is supported by that fund. However, we lack the data and information needed to accurately map deficiencies in coverage.

Budget and tax

During the 2017 session, LB 461, a combined personal income, corporate income, and property tax cut, stalled when a vote for cloture failed. The bill remains on general file. This bill, or a version thereof, will be debated in 2018.

Alternative avenues to property tax relief were suggested over the interim. This discussion is taking place alongside an estimated $195 million state budget shortfall over the two-year budget cycle, which threatens agency budgets and funding for programs.

This remains a priority. We will support bills that meaningfully address the property tax burden suffered by rural Nebraskans. We will defend against cuts to education and other social services important to low-income individuals.

Energy and environment

In 2017, we helped pass LB 625, which expanded the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program outside of city limits. This will improve adoption of distributed energy and energy efficiency technologies across the state.

Anti-wind sentiment is growing in some areas. LB 504, a bill to prohibit wind development in the Sandhills, remains in committee. Supporters of that bill held hearings and strengthened their media presence over the interim. 

We support policy options that lead to economic development opportunities through renewable energy investment. We will defend and improve upon progress that has been made. LB 504 and other attempts to inhibit wind development through onerous and unworkable siting standards remain a primary concern.

Food and agriculture

Property tax dominated the time and attention of Nebraska’s agriculture groups in 2017. A second version of the Right to Farm amendment we helped defeat in 2016 was not proposed, and we are not aware of plans to reignite this debate. 

The rural versus urban divide we saw grow in 2017 was also present during the interim. This split will affect the ability to find consensus on property taxes. That consensus – or lack thereof – will have ramifications as other bills are debated. 

Against this backdrop, we will continue to improve access for beginning farmers. Nebraska was the first state to establish tax incentives for landowners who agree to rent to beginning farmers. The law has not been amended since 2008 and is now falling short of its potential. We will advocate for amendments to this bill, focusing on encouraging beginning veteran farmer participation.

Health care

In 2017, a bill was passed to expand telehealth, demonstrating the willingness of coalitions from across the spectrum to work together. Then, as now, uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act was a dominant theme. 

That uncertainty is compounded by our current budget deficit. In the face of such ambiguity, our primary role is to protect against damaging cuts while remaining open to opportunities to improve care. Discussions regarding Medicaid expansion continue. 

Our primary goal is to enable more health insurance coverage for low-income Nebraskans, especially those who are in a coverage gap. We will do so again in 2018.

Other issues in Nebraska

Adverse possession - Nebraska law does not require that an adverse possessor prove payment of property tax in order to satisfy a claim. Nebraska law also does not make payment of property taxes an affirmative defense. In 2017, we initiated legislation to:

  1. Require property tax be paid by the adverse possessor over the statutory period to satisfy an adverse possession claim, and
  2. Require any adverse possessor compensate the original owner for any property tax paid during the statutory period. This bill remains in committee.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - Revised legislation will be introduced during the 2018 legislative session seeking to raise the gross monthly income requirement from 130 percent of poverty, while maintaining other eligibility requirements. We participate in a working group, regarding food insecurity and the cliff effect of SNAP in the state.

What do you think?

Let us know your input on these priorities and tell us about other state issues that are important to you. Are you interested in writing a letter to your legislator or even testifying at the state capitol? Let us know.

For our Nebraska work, contact Jordan Rasmussen at jordanr@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 ext. 1032. Read more about 2018 Nebraska Legislative policy priorities

  • Clean Energy
  • Farm Policy
  • Rural Health
  • Small BusinessSmall Business Policy
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