Crop Insurance

Iowa: Now is the time to act on water quality

Iowa legislators reconvene this week. First on the agenda is expected to be a fast-tracked water quality bill. Critics say the bill is inadequate for providing short-term funding that fails to use a targeted watershed approach. Iowa’s water quality continues to decline as the legislature delays on creating a stable, dedicated funding source to improve it.

By limiting debate and rushing a bill, Iowans are missing an opportunity to deliver a water quality bill that includes:

  • A dedicated, stable funding source through the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund;
  • Required water quality monitoring at the watershed level with public data access;
  • Funding and support for established Watershed Management Authorities and agencies who administer them; and
  • An emphasis on local planning and control.

Voters approved the establishment of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Fund in 2010, which remains unfunded. Despite public support, Republican majorities in the legislature are not interested in raising the sales tax to fund the trust. Senate File 512, which is expected to pass, does include a provision voiding its proposed funding structure if the sales tax is passed to fund the trust at a later date.

Your voice matters! Contact your legislators today.

Sign our petition to add you voice to hundreds of other Iowans standing up for better Iowa water quality. Read more about Iowa: Now is the time to act on water quality

  • EnvironmentWater
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Grants available in New York for new and military veteran farmers

New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that $1.25 million in funding is available through two grant programs designed to assist new and military veteran farmers across the state. The New Farmers Grant Fund helps new and early-stage farmers, and the New York State Veterans Farmer Grant Fund supports farms owned and operated by military veterans.

Applicant farms must have a minimum of $10,000 in income from sales of products grown or raised on the farm. Eligible project costs include the purchase of machinery, equipment, supplies, and the construction or improvement of agricultural structures.

The application deadline is Jan. 26, 2018.

Information is available on these websites: and

The Center for Rural Affairs website lists additional grant programs around the country and other strategies for farm startup financing. Visit our resources page here: Read more about Grants available in New York for new and military veteran farmers

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
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Farm bill program supports rural businesses

Rural entrepreneurs are often important members of their communities. The upcoming farm bill offers a significant opportunity to support those entrepreneurs and their rural businesses through the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.

Created in the 2008 farm bill, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program provides funds to third parties, such as nongovernmental organizations and community development financial institutions, to provide training, technical assistance, and loans to rural entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurs served by this program are unable to access capital through traditional means.

One beneficiary of the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program is Chatterbox Brews, a restaurant in Tekamah, Nebraska, a town with a population of 1,730. Owners Cindy Chatt and Britney Hansen saw an opportunity to invest in Cindy’s rural hometown and to give back to the community by offering a new type of establishment, a brewpub serving craft beers and homestyle food.

With support from the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, loan experts from the Center for Rural Affairs provided the two entrepreneurs with one-on-one counseling and technical assistance to secure financing and realize their dream.

Today, Chatterbox Brews is thriving with daily lunch specials and a seasonal farmers market. And, neighbors are responding. The excitement has spurred even more development in the rural community.

Chatterbox Brew’s success is just one instance of a main street business gaining momentum, thanks to the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program. The farm bill program supports small businesses and helps keep rural communities, like Tekamah, vibrant.  Read more about Farm bill program supports rural businesses

  • Small Business
  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Weekly column

Whole Farm Revenue Protection: A risk management tool for diversified farms

Daniels Produce found Whole Farm Revenue Protection to be an answer to a problem many diversified producers face: the inability to receive crop insurance coverage for a variety of crops they grow. With the help of their crop insurance agent, Daniels Produce is now able to insure all of their crops – minimizing risk and providing greater security within their farming operation. 

Farmers manage risk

Farming involves risk from weather, prices, and a host of other sources. Many farmers are able to manage some of that risk with crop insurance. Until recently, crop insurance hasn’t been available to every farmer. Prior to 2014, many diversified farmers and ranchers were unable to insure their fruits, vegetables, or livestock because individual insurance plans were either too costly or did not exist for that crop in their area. This changed in 2014 when Whole Farm Revenue Protection became available.

What is Whole Farm Revenue Protection? 

The majority of crop insurance in the United States covers just four crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton. For producers of other commodities — such as peppers and squash — insurance coverage has been limited. Whole Farm Revenue Protection is a crop insurance product that allows a farmer or rancher to insure the entire revenue for their operation, covering the revenue of those other commodities.

Owners of diversified operations can use Whole Farm Revenue Protection as an alternative or in combination with Multi-Peril Crop Insurance or other individualized crop insurance plans, as it allows farmers and ranchers to insure commodities they couldn’t insure before – small grains crop, fruits and vegetables, even livestock – as long as there is a history of revenue. 

Daniels Produce insures veggies

Daniels Produce is owned and operated by Andy and Tannie Daniels in Columbus, Nebraska, and is the culmination of more than four decades of hard work and ingenuity.

The operation grows almost 600 acres of fresh market vegetables including sweet corn, cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, peppers, squash, and more. The fresh produce is sold through farmers markets, produce vendors, and grocery stores throughout Nebr-aska, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Florida.

Like many other farmers, the Daniels family felt existing crop insurance options weren’t fitting the unique needs of their operation.

Whole Farm Revenue Protection was the right fit for Daniels Produce because of the highly diversified nature of their operation. They had previously found it difficult to find crop insurance policies that fit their operation and provided adequate coverage in case of hail, drought, or any other natural disaster that would cause yield loss.

Though the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program was available, the Daniels did not feel the basic coverage, similar to that of catastrophic level of insurance coverage, was the right option for their operation. The Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program provides coverage for 50 to 65 percent of production on the farm, as opposed to Whole Farm Revenue Protection, which provides coverage levels between 50 and 85 percent.

Daniels Produce qualified for the highest subsidy level with Whole Farm Revenue Protection due to their highly diversified operation that exceeds the three-commodity minimum. 

Whole Farm Revenue Protection is a viable insurance option for many farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, like the Daniels family, and across the United States. It is important producers are aware of all crop insurance options and have the choice to determine what product best suits their individual needs. 

Can your operation benefit?

To learn more about the program and determine if it is a fit for you, contact Cora at 402.687.2100 ext. 1012 or Or visit: 

Whole Farm Revenue Protection was authorized by the 2014 farm bill. The Center for Rural Affairs supported this change to make crop insurance more widely available to diversified farms. If you are interested in learning how you can support this and other risk management options for diversified farmers, get in touch with us.

Feature photo: Daniels Produce workers harvest sweet corn to be sold at farmers markets and grocery stores. Owners of Daniels Produce use Whole Farm Revenue Protection to insure revenue from crops that are not covered under traditional crop insurance. | Photo submitted Read more about Whole Farm Revenue Protection: A risk management tool for diversified farms

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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From the Desk of the Executive Director: Passage of tax bill puts rural priorities at risk

The tax bill secured final passage just as we went to press with our January/February newsletter. The Center opposed the bill and we called on Congress to return the bill to committee for further debate and deliberation. In our initial review of the bill, a few provisions give us pause, including:

Tax cut for wealthiest estates

Under current law, a married couple can pass on $11 million of assets in their estate without paying any estate tax. The final bill that was approved will double the exemption to $22 million per couple. Even under current law, only 0.2 percent of estates pay any estate tax. Just 28 estates in our home state of Nebraska were subject to the tax in the last year. 

Congressional leaders tout the estate tax roll back as a boon for small businesses and family farmers. In fact, it is a cut for the wealthiest individuals, and allows for a continued consolidation of wealth.

Tax bill triggers automatic cuts

Under existing budget sequestration rules, if Congress takes no action following the passage of the tax bill, countless federal programs could see automatic budget cuts as soon as 2018. 

For example, $3.8 billion would be cut from farm bill programs including conservation, beginning farmer, and small town infrastructure programs. The Center will support congressional action to prevent automatic cuts to these programs that small towns and family farmers rely on.

Health care programs targeted

The final bill could trigger $25 billion in cuts to Medicare. Furthermore, by ending the individual mandate for health insurance, an expected 13 million low-income Americans will drop health coverage, leading to major reductions in tax credits designed to help working adults afford health insurance. 

In our home state of Nebraska, it is estimated that the change will cause insurance premiums in the individual market to rise by more than $3,000 per year for a family of four. In rural areas, these cuts and coverage losses could imperil small town hospitals that operate on thin margins.

Cuts to corporate income tax permanent; cuts for individuals temporary

The final bill cuts corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 21 percent, and makes the cut permanent. For individuals, the final bill lowers rates and increases the standard deduction. However, the bill also eliminates the personal exemption and caps the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000. The final impact on each household will be determined by how changes to deductions and credits apply to each particular situation. Some low and middle income households are expected to see an actual tax increase as a result of the bill. Furthermore, cuts for individuals expire after 2025, while corporate tax cuts remain in place.


These are just a few of the provisions that will affect rural people and small towns. We believe the final bill was hastily written and benefits the very richest individuals and corporations too much, while doing too little for everyday people and small town development.

There are innovative changes to our tax code worth considering. The Center supports proposals that use the tax code to promote investment in employer-owned small businesses, beginning farmers, and small town infrastructure. We will continue to look for opportunities to create a more just tax system that works for everyday people and rural places. Read more about From the Desk of the Executive Director: Passage of tax bill puts rural priorities at risk

  • Farm Policy
  • Rural Health
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Small business REAPs benefits by helping the environment in a stylish way

“What to wear?” is every woman’s daily dilemma, and a problem Refined Boutique and Reclaimed Brands, in North Platte, Nebraska, is able to solve.

In 2010, Missy Couse and her husband considered starting a business.

She asked him if it made a difference what they sold. His response was, “no.” However, when she mentioned a boutique, she could tell he was skeptical. He let her run with it.

Like most businesses, the boutique started out very small, in a side space of a salon, and expanded slowly.

In 2013, the venture moved into its own storefront, at 518 N Dewey St., allowing for the launch of Reclaimed Brands, which offers affordable “previously loved” clothing.

“Refined Boutique and Reclaimed Brands offers an experience, which is what shoppers want if they go to a store," said Nancy Flock, loan specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs' Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP). "Merchandising and customer service also play a very important role.”

The boutique offers fashionable outfits and accessories, and caters to a variety of shopping budgets with both brand new items and items ready to be reloved. The business also attracts environmentally conscious consumers concerned with clothing waste.

According to Couse, consumers in North Platte are comforted in knowing they can open the doors of a small business and find just what they are looking for.

And, no matter what side of the store the shopper ends up in, they will receive excellent customer service.

“Customer service has a great impact on success," Couse said. "Having regular hours, networking, featuring new items, hosting promotions, and being creative with displays is also very helpful."

Last year, Couse was at a local craft expo when she and other business owners discussed the concept of a mobile store. A mobile store could be used to increase the number of customers and could be a marketing piece for a storefront. However, challenges could include packing items for a weekend and unpacking when the show is over.

Couse approached Flock, who is very familiar with the concept — her parents owned a traveling storefront curios shop. The duo discussed access to financing, specifically to obtain a trailer which could simplify the mobile store.

“One of the first steps in the financing process is working with business owners to develop a solid business plan and sound financial projections,” Flock said.

REAP was able to provide a loan for a mobile store. Flock also provided one-on-one coaching and technical assistance to fine-tune the business plan.

Planning increased the efficiency of the mobile store, which allowed more time for Couse to focus on ecommerce.

According to Flock, in today’s fast paced, mobile world, ecommerce is a must-have for small businesses.

"It’s a great way to connect with a target market and can also help generate sales, both online and in store," she said.

Future plans for Refined Brands include expanding clothing selections by adding lines of jeans and basic layering tanks.

Couse became interested in small business at a very young age. She created her first venture in the third grade with a business that catered to roller skating. Couse would play a cassette tape with the top hits — after recording the hits each week. She also made pom poms to attach to roller skates.

“I considered charging an admission to skate on a fresh driveway, but that didn’t work out so well, so I sold beverages and snacks instead,” she said.

Others in Couse's family enjoy executing business visions. Over the years, she has learned many tricks of the trade from family — specifically from her grandparents' bar and trucking company and an uncle's marketing and public relations firm.

In total, she has been directly involved with five businesses.

“I get the greatest satisfaction from creating something out of nothing, learning from mistakes, and sharing in success” Couse said.

To browse Reclaimed Brands, check out the website and Facebook page. For information on business loans, click here. To apply for a loan, click here.

At a Glance

Refined Boutique and Reclaimed Brands
518 N Dewey St.
North Platte, NE 69101
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday

Feature photo: Missy Couse, owner of Refined Boutique and Reclaimed Brands, pictured at her mobile store. Look for it at an event near you. | Photo by Nancy Flock Read more about Small business REAPs benefits by helping the environment in a stylish way

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Top 5 of 2017: From the desk of the executive director: New approach needed for small town housing

It's official! The first day of 2018 is here. What better way to kick it off than with a look at our most viewed post in 2017, authored by Brian Depew, our executive director.

This piece takes a look at a community development issue faced by many rural communities — housing. What do you do locally to address a lack of housing in your community? In our top post of 2017, Brian lists a few ideas.

From the desk of the executive director: New approach needed for small town housing

Housing in small towns would take care of itself, or so I used to believe.

If we could get employment, education, health care, and quality of life right, the market would surely solve housing. In many rural areas, I figured, decades of population decline left more housing stock than people. Certainly a lack of houses wasn’t stopping people from moving to our small town.

I was wrong.

Now I understand the real story. I’ve heard from employers, from young families, and from recent college graduates. We’re interested in moving to your small town, they say, but we can’t find housing. More often than not, they end up living in a nearby larger town with more housing options.

Consider what you can do locally to address this challenge.

Financing — A growing number of banks have stopped writing mortgages for less than $50,000. Where property values are low, this effectively blocks low and middle income workers out of home ownership. What can you do to counter this trend? Community-centric lenders such as local development agencies, nonprofit lenders, and community-oriented banks could fill the gap.

Rethink Construction — Have you ever noticed how every new home looks the same and costs $200,000 to build? Rural Studio, a group of architects at Auburn University in Alabama, has developed a house that costs just $20,000. Their price point is competitive with a trailer home. By thinking differently about materials and construction methods, their designs can help expand your thinking about what is possible.

Get deliberate about repairs — Epicenter, a nonprofit in Green River, Utah (population 929), launched Fix It First, a program that provides low-interest loans and technical assistance to help homeowners fix minor problems (e.g. roof leak) before they become major problems. Dealing with issues early helps keep local housing stock in good repair and saves residents money.

Put cash on the table — We’re quick to invest public money in economic development incentives, but slow to invest in housing development. For a small town, cash incentives for new home construction may make a lot of sense. A $5,000 or $10,000 incentive will pay back directly (in property taxes, utilities, and fees) and indirectly (in new residents in town and new kids in the local school).

Change policy — Most public policy around housing seeks to address low-income housing. By banding together to expand policy to address workforce housing, local advocates can direct additional resources to this challenge. A bill introduced in the Nebraska legislature would establish a competitive grant process to address workforce housing needs.

Those are a few of the ideas we are thinking about at the Center for Rural Affairs to address rural housing. What are you seeing work in your town? Get in touch. Read more about Top 5 of 2017: From the desk of the executive director: New approach needed for small town housing

  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Top 5 of 2017: Cora grew up in the middle of everywhere

Cora Fox, policy associate, joined our organization in May. In our second highest viewed post of 2017, Cora shares that she looks forward coming back to her roots to work with Midwestern farmers, and talks about growing up in rural Iowa. She works primarily on agricultural policy, and can answer questions on our farm bill work or anything regarding "Answering the Call: Veteran Farmers Conference" set for March 24, in Hastings, Nebraska. We are glad to have her on our team.

Cora grew up in the middle of everywhere

I am an Iowa native, raised on a century farm in the heart of the Loess Hills. I grew up in Monona County, near the town with the little star on the hill, to be exact. As part of the sixth generation to live and work on my family farm, I’ve learned farming isn’t an occupation, but rather a livelihood.

Looking back, all of my favorite childhood memories happened on the farm. I remember spending countless hours exploring in the Loess Hills, following worn cattle trails and looking for Pasque flowers. I loved riding in the tractor with my dad and grandpa. During the summer, I’d pick apples from our orchard to make pie for the local county fair (Iowa State Fair-worthy, I might add).  

Why is it we often want to get away from the rural way of life when we are young? In my high school years, I found myself wanting to live in a big city. I didn’t really have a reason other than wanting to experience something far different from what I had known.

I left home to start college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying political science. Though I enjoyed what I was studying, I felt an intrinsic motivation to serve my country and to be a part of something bigger than myself. After my freshman year, I decided I would enlist in the Air Force.

As an enlisted member in the Iowa Air National Guard, I spent most of the next four years supporting various contingencies worldwide, either deployed or on temporary duty in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. I commissioned in 2016 and currently serve as an officer.

During this time, I continued to further my education at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in political science and minoring in environmental sustainability. I am currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health with an emphasis on health policy and ethics at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

Over the past year, life has drastically changed for me. I now serve in a part-time capacity, which allows me to pursue other ventures. I no longer keep packed bags by the door pending a call for the next trip halfway around the world. My boots aren’t worn; my hands aren’t covered in grease. Although I had loved my job in the Air Force, after each and every deployment and trip I found myself back on the farm. During these trips home, I developed a greater appreciation for rural Iowa and our family farm.

I think my parents knew all along I would come “home.” I didn’t just wake up one day to decide I would live on a farm the rest of my life. My life took a long, meandering path to where I am today. Though my experiences in the Air Force and in higher education have helped shape me, the rural way of life has always been a part of me.

Last week, I had a conversation with the Center’s executive director, Brian Depew. I casually mentioned I came from a rural county in the middle of nowhere. Brian made an insightful comment that really stuck with me — he’d stated that he disliked the phrase “the middle of nowhere.” After some thought, I responded, “You’re right, it’s the middle of everywhere.” Rural America isn’t empty, boring, or bland — it’s thriving, full of life, and anything but average.

I look forward to coming back to my roots and working with the most resilient, hardworking, and innovative people I know — Midwestern farmers. The Center for Rural Affairs has a longstanding history with the farming community, and I am excited to join the team. I understand many challenges rural communities face firsthand, and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve rural America.

If you enjoy the smell of fresh cut alfalfa as much as I do (or just appreciate the rural way of life), feel free to give me a call at 402.687.2100 x 1012, or send me an email at

Pictured: Cora's family farm near Turin, Iowa. She is the sixth generation to call the farm home. | Photo by Cora Fox Read more about Top 5 of 2017: Cora grew up in the middle of everywhere

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Top 5 of 2017: Dear Iowa lawmakers: Leopold Center deserves recognition and respect

Today, we share number three in our top five posts countdown, a letter sent to Iowa lawmakers. Last spring, lawmakers proposed a budget bill that would have eliminated the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. In the end, the governor vetoed the provision, allowing for the continued existence of the Leopold Center. The Center for Rural Affairs has worked alongside the Leopold Center on conservation and agriculture, and will continue those efforts.

Thanks to people like you, we were able to make a difference through a massive grassroots effort. Every phone call made, every petition signed and drafted, every story shared, every op-ed submitted, and every testimony presented added up to a political win.

About the Leopold Center: The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a nationally-recognized leader on crop system and market research that helps farmers adopt alternative crops while remaining profitable. We hear from our farmer supporters that they would love to grow more oats, small grains, and perennials but need access to improved seed varieties, research on growing techniques, and information about markets. The Leopold Center has long supported that research. At a time when commodity prices are falling and farmers are increasingly concerned by water quality, the work of the Leopold Center is more important than ever. 

Dear Iowa lawmakers: Leopold Center deserves recognition and respect

Dear Gov. Bransted, Lt. Gov. Reynolds, and Iowa lawmakers,

We, the undersigned, oppose any proposal to eliminate funding and authority for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. While the work of the Leopold Center is focused in Iowa, it has long been a leader in sustainable agriculture research and serves as an inspiration to sustainable agriculture work nationwide.

For 30 years, the Leopold Center has supported research on water and soil resources through more than 600 projects. The progress made in many other states on water quality, diversified cropping systems, livestock grazing, cover crops, soil health, and local food systems is due in part to initial research that the Leopold Center supported.

In order to continue to address many issues we face in our food and agriculture system - nutrient runoff, soil erosion, manure management, and others - the need for the innovative research that the Leopold Center supports is greater than ever. Eliminating support for the Leopold Center would have dramatic and harmful impacts on future work to improve soil and water health nationwide.

The 30 years of leadership in sustainable agriculture research from the Leopold Center deserves recognition and respect. We strongly urge you to oppose elimination of its funding and authority.



John Fisk, Wallace Center at Winrock International, Arkansas, Virginia, and National Organization
Virginia Clarke, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders (SAFSF), California
Julio Contreras, SOCLA- NAB: Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology - North America at Berkeley, California
Kali Feiereisel, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California
Eric Holt-Gimenez, Institute for Food and Development Policy, California
Charlie James, Food, Equity, Entrepreneurship, & Development (FEED), California
Ann Thrupp, Berkeley Food Institute, California
Tom Willey, T&D Willey Farms, California
Skye Cornell, Wholesome Wave, Connecticut
Marty Mesh, Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, Florida
​Donn Cooper Cooper Agricultural Services, LLC, Georgia
​Albie Miles, University of Hawaii - West Oahu, Hawaii
Aaron Lehman, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa
Sally Worley, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa
Stephanie Enloe, Center for Rural Affairs, Iowa and Nebraska
Mary Fund, Kansas Rural Center, Kansas
Kate Clancy, Maryland
​Kourtney Collum, College of the Atlantic, Maine
Dena Leibman, Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Maryland
Robert Martin, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Maryland
Rebecca Haag, Island Grown Initiative, Massachusetts
Alicia Harvie, Farm Aid, Massachusetts
Rick Foster, WK Kellogg Foundation and Michigan State University, Michigan
Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Michigan
Richard Pirog, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, Michigan
Jan Joannides, Renewing the Countryside, Minnesota
Ben Lilliston, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota
Helene Murray, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Minnesota
Kathleen Zurcher, Minnesota
Alex Borst, Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network, Mississippi
Melissa Vatterott, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Missouri
David Oien, Timeless Seeds, Inc., Montana
Shelly Connor, Wild Farm Alliance, National Organization
Bridget Holcomb, Women, Food and Agriculture Network, National Organization
​Brise Tencer, Organic Farming Research Foundation, National Organization
Duane Hovorka, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Nebraska
Alice Varon, Certified Naturally Grown, New York and National organization
Roland McReynolds, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, North Carolina and South Carolina
Nancy Creamer, Center for Environmental Farming Systems, North Carolina State University, North Carolina
Nancy Creamer, Inter-Institutional Network for Food, Agriculture, and Sustainability, multi-state network of Universities’ Sustainable Agriculture Programs
Jonathon Moser, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota
Casey Hoy, Agroecosystems Management Program, Ohio
​Amalie Lipstreu, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio
Sam Arnold, The Common Market, Pennsylvania
​Eowyn Corral, Dakota Rural Action, South Dakota
Laurie Ristino, Vermont Law School, Vermont
Ricardo Salvador, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D.C.
Kendra Klein, Friends of the Earth, Washington D.C.
Savanna Lyons, Refresh Appalachia, West Virginia
Michael Bell, Wisconsin
Jill Hapner, GrassWorks, Inc., Wisconsin
John Hendrickson, Stone Circle Farm, Wisconsin
Karen Hendrickson, Small Farm Works, Wisconsin
Jack Kloppenburg, Open Source Seed Initiative, Wisconsin
Lindsey Day Farnsworth, Wisconsin
Kelly Maynard, Wisconsin Read more about Top 5 of 2017: Dear Iowa lawmakers: Leopold Center deserves recognition and respect

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Top 5 of 2017: Remembering Jeff Reynolds

The year in review countdown continues with news that still weighs heavily on our hearts. Jeff Reynolds, our small business development program director, unexpectedly passed away in April. Coming in at number four in our countdown is the announcement written by Brian Depew, our executive director.

Remembering Jeff Reynolds

It is with a heavy heart that I write to share the news that Jeff Reynolds passed away unexpectedly on April 20, 2017. Jeff directed the Center's small business development program, the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, or REAP, as it is widely known in Nebraska. He was a veteran staff member, having worked for the Center since 1994.

We will miss his dedication, his good spirit, his can-do attitude, and his uplifting presence.

Jeff was always willing to step up to a new challenge, and I turned to him for wisdom and advice many times during my time at the Center. Nearly all who worked for Jeff over the years praise him for being a coach, a mentor, a friend and someone who always believed in them. He was all of those things. He was also a proud father, devoted husband, and dedicated leader in his local community. 

Jeff was committed to rural small business development and to each and every small business owner we ever worked with. Since becoming program director in 2000, Jeff led a dramatic expansion of the Center's small business lending, training, and technical assistance work. The future of the Center for Rural Affairs has been indelibly shaped by Jeff’s vision and hard work.

Jeff fundamentally believed in small business development as a strategy. He helped design, campaign for and win both state and federal programs that now provide resources to other small business development organizations. His impact, therefore, extends far beyond the Center and far beyond Nebraska.

I imagine many of you have your own memories of working with Jeff. If you send your memories or condolences along to our office, we will share your words with his family.

Please keep Jeff’s family and friends in mind in the days, weeks and months ahead. Jeff, we miss you and are proud to have worked alongside you. Read more about Top 5 of 2017: Remembering Jeff Reynolds

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Top 5 of 2017: Veteran farmer homesteads with a kick

Countdown time! With less than one week remaining in 2017, a recap is in order. So, here's a review of the five best Center stories of the year, chosen by the most views on our website.

Number five features Matt and Emely Hendl. Matt recently retired from the U.S. Navy, and the couple had a dream to farm in Nebraska. Since this blog was posted, they found an acreage and are establishing their farm. The couple helped us plan the first ever "Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Conference" last June, and are in the process of helping us plan the next conference, set for March 24, in Hastings, Nebraska. The piece was written by Rhea Landholm.

Veteran farmer homesteads with a kick

Three years ago, Matt and Emely Hendl didn’t picture themselves as farmers.

They thought Emely would support their family with her government service job after Matt retired after 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

However, after changing their minds a few times, they decided to move their daughter, Annika, dog, cat and hamster, to the Platte River valley in Nebraska to pursue an altogether different venture: small-scale farming.

Cultivating interest

Matt and Emely began their agricultural adventure in Connect­icut. They lived on 7.5 acres with a small-scale organic farm on one side and a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm on the other.

Emely helped the organic farmer raise microgreens and herbs and sell them at the local market.

And, after visiting with the owner of the CSA farm, the couple decided they could produce their own food, starting with chickens.

“I thought a little bit bigger than we needed to,” Matt said. “It was the first time I hadn’t been under­way, attached to a submarine.”

He cleared out a 50-foot by 60-foot area, using lumber that was on the land to create fence posts and build a chicken coop. And ended up with 22 chickens.

“Every single one of them had a name,” Matt said. “They were everything from Bob and Marley to Baby Alligator and Twilight Spar­kle. Our daughter was just like a little chicken whisperer.”

Then the couple was wowed by their CSA neighbor. She won a women entrepreneur award for those 25 years or younger, com­peting against women who worked at large corporations.

“That made us think, if some­one from small town Connecticut can do something like that, we can too,” Matt said.

Starting anew

While making their decision of where to go next, they looked at the Midwest for its agriculture and proximity to family. However, Matt said he still has a bit to learn.

“As one of the most senior ranks in the military, I was used to knowing what I was doing,” Matt said. “I feel like I’m starting over. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“We said, We’ll just come,” Emely said. “People would call us homesteaders. We’re not pioneers, but what we want to do is essen­tially homesteading with a kick.”

Planting roots

Matt started agricultural cours­es at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in the fall. The couple also has found mentors in Del Ficke and Kerry Hoffschneider (Emely’s high school classmate).

“We have good mentors who won’t let us fail,” Matt said. “We’re so appreciative and humble that they’re able to give us this oppor­tunity.”

The Hendls are helping out at Ficke Cattle Company, owned by Del, while using the land to work on their own projects.

Growing aspirations

First on the to-do list is starting a destination farmers market at Ficke Cattle Company, outside of Pleasant Dale, Neb.

Additionally, the Hendls would like to pursue agritourism, provid­ing a place with cheese tasting, beekeeping classes and more.

The couple is inspired by agri­tourism on the east coast, particu­larly for people who did not grow up on farms.

“They are able to smell the farm and hear the sounds,” Emely said. “When you see the sun setting on a hill with cows on it, and you’re drinking a coffee, that’s serenity.”

The Hendls would also like to host school field trips.

Sowing knowledge

Another future venture for the Hendls is providing agriculture education and training.

“A lot of people are coming to this state who have never lived here, like me,” Matt said. “They don’t have an agriculture back­ground but, they want to know where their food is coming from.”

One way is to provide mobile chicken tractors and laying chick­ens – two at a time – for rent.

“People are scared about what they don’t know,” Matt said. “We want to provide an avenue to get educated and to get more comfort­able, kind of like what we’re doing, and what Del’s done for us.”

The couple has been encouraged by the sense of community and support they’ve received.

“In the military, that is what you strive for,” Matt said. “To be able to get that in a community that isn’t the military is amazing.”

“We’re not afraid of the hard work,” Emely said. “Our goal is to be able to work from home and provide the love and the informa­tion to people. We have the plan and the dream. We’re ready.”

Supporting new neighbors

Matt and Emely are helping the Center for Rural Affairs and Legal Aid of Nebraska plan “Answering the Call: Veteran Farmer Confer­ence” in June 2017.

Note for 2018: The conference is scheduled for Saturday, March 24, in Hastings, Neb. Click here for more information, or contact Cora at or at 402.687.2100 ext. 1012.

Feature photo:  Matt and Emely Hendl have settled in the Utica, Neb., area, and, with the help of their mentors, plan to offer agritourism and education to others. For now, they are renting a house in town, with the Utica sign in their front yard. They are also helping the Center for Rural Affairs plan an inaugural Veteran Farmer Conference set for June. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Top 5 of 2017: Veteran farmer homesteads with a kick

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Will Iowans Prevent Solar Tax Credit from Fading Away?

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - Iowa

Just as Iowa's crops require sunshine to grow, clean energy advocates say so does the state's economy. 

Part of the solar production tax credit for large utility-scaled projects expired last year. And, given Iowa's $133 million budget shortfall, there are concerns that state lawmakers will also allow the credit for small-scale and residential solar installation to fade away. 

Katie Rock, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, notes the state invested nearly $16 million in the credit between 2012 and 2016, leveraging more than $123 million in private solar energy system investment. 

"This is a fairly small tax credit,” she states. “It's only like $4 or $5 million. So, it's something that Iowa can afford in return for more growth in renewable energy. Iowa has been a longtime leader in renewable energy, and we just want to continue that for the state."

According to Rock, solar job growth topped 60 percent in Iowa from 2015 to 2016, and the industry statewide now includes more than 560 full-time workers in 45 different companies. 

Rock says solar energy is spurring innovation and returns in rural areas, as farms and businesses invest in solar installations as a way to cut costs. 

"You drive around rural Iowa, you can see some of these installations, right next to the Hach building and the farm operations,” she points out. “And the top county in Iowa for solar jobs is actually O'Brien County in northwest Iowa. So, farms and businesses are a huge part of driving this growth in solar energy."

Rock notes Iowa currently gets more than one-third of its electricity from wind power. With continued growth, she's convinced that advances in solar power could push Iowa to over 50 percent renewable, clean energy.

Feature photo: Adobe Stock Read more about Will Iowans Prevent Solar Tax Credit from Fading Away?

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