DREAM Act 2017

23 million rural Americans are without broadband access

Disparity in rural high-speed internet access has recently garnered national attention.

The internet is now one of the most basic modes of how people find employment, attend college, work, handle their finances, and receive medical care. However, especially in rural areas, the internet is not available to be utilized in its full capacity.

Earlier this summer, Microsoft released a report outlining strategies to eliminate the rural broadband gap by 2022 for the more than 23 million rural Americans without access. Beyond funding and the leveraging of innovative and cost-efficient technologies, public-private partnerships are key to the strategy.

In order to bring in public sector participation, citizens will need to remain actively engaged in state and local internet access conversations.

Rural residents need to draw attention to the limitations that slow or non-existent internet speeds impose upon access to everyday educational and economic opportunities. Demonstrating the magnitude of the digital divide places pressure upon local and state governments to update policies and leverage collaborative funding streams for the benefit of all citizens.

Funding opportunities and legislative changes are key to the extension of internet access to all residents. The ability to expand broadband access in rural communities expands social and economic opportunities for Americans. But, it will take partnerships, community action, and citizen participation to help close that divide. Read more about 23 million rural Americans are without broadband access

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Bridging Nebraska's digital divide through funding and legislative opportunities

The expansion of internet access for rural Nebraska is the focus of a recently released grant funding opportunity and upcoming legislative hearings.

The internet is now one of the most basic modes of how people find employment, attend college, work, handle their finances, and receive medical care. However, especially in rural areas of the state, the internet is not available to be utilized in its full capacity. Nebraska’s Legislature and agencies are seeking to address the issue.

To provide opportunities for expanded, rural internet access, Nebraska’s Public Service Commission is accepting pre-applications for grants from the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund (NIEF). The application deadline is Nov. 10. Counties and municipalities are encouraged to apply for funding to deliver broadband internet where adequate service does not exist. The NIEF pre-application form and more information on project requirements are available at www.psc.nebraska.gov.

Increasing the provision of high speed internet in rural areas of the state will also be a topic addressed by members of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee during three hearings to be held across Nebraska later this month. Field hearings will be held in McCook on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at McCook Community College; Central City on Thursday, Nov. 30, at the city council chambers; and Lincoln on Friday, Dec. 1, at the State Capitol, Room 1113.

Hearing meetings are open to the public, and testimony is welcomed. Rural residents and community representatives are encouraged to participate. More information can be found on the Nebraska Legislature’s website, www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

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. But, it will take partnerships, community action, and citizen participation to help close that divide. Read more about Bridging Nebraska's digital divide through funding and legislative opportunities

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Artist, craftsman, historian: one carpenter, many passions

“Right man, right place, right time,” said Al Leal, president of Al’s Old House Repair, LLC.  

His historic carpentry and renovation business landed him in the “right place” of Red Cloud, Nebraska, a town with fewer than 1,000 people, and at the former home of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Willa Cather, and the internationally known Willa Cather Foundation.

Leal has come a long way since returning to his hometown of Clear Lake, Iowa after serving in the military. He joined the business with nothing more than a borrowed saw and a pair of pliers.

Clear Lake, Iowa, to Corpus Christi, Texas, to Red Cloud, Nebraska was the route Armando "Al" Leal’s family took to find a place rich in history. His business include his sons in their fourth generation carpentry business which began in Madrid, Spain.

Al's Old House Repair is not your typical carpentry business. "Restoring history one board at a time," is their motto, and Leal stays true to that statement.

Extensive research goes into each project. For various projects, he has made many visits to the Nebraska Historical Society and the Willa Cather Foundation archives.

Last year, Leal reached out to Dena Beck, senior project leader with Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), for assistance.

“Working with Al was different than the clients I had worked with in my 10 plus years with REAP,” Beck said. “His work not only supports his family and creates jobs, but also preserves a living history of Willa Cather and her time in Red Cloud. Seeing his work in varying stages is amazing and inspiring to me.”

Leal received a microloan from REAP to expand his business. Al and his wife have also worked through the REAP Women’s Business Center to utilize bookkeeping assistance to help streamline operations.

In 2016, Leal began work on the Matthew R. Bentley/Wick Cutter House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Red Cloud’s Seward Street Historic District. The house is also separately listed as an important Cather site, as it is the former home of a man Cather based a villainous character on.

Leal once again dove into research by reading a literature review relating the significance of the structure to Cather.

In My Ántonia, Cather wrote about Wick Cutter murdering his wife and then committing suicide. The crime actually did occur, but not in this house, as Cather portrayed it. Bentley shot his wife to death then killed himself in 1912, but that happened in Arkansas, where Bentley moved to in 1904.

Leal mentioned having the privilege to put together a group of craftsmen, valuable to his team. One honorable mention member of Al’s team is David Lovejoy, local farmer/rancher/wood shop craftsman. Plans are to complete the Bentley house in summer 2018.

“Red Cloud saw many immigrants when the town was formed, and you can appreciate that fact with the architecture found in the town: Italian, Victorian, Gothic, Spanish, and German,” Leal said. “Salvage is the ultimate goal, followed by replacing pieces from the same period, then painstaking, but rewarding, recreation, which few, if any, people can differentiate from the original.”

Though the historical significance of the Wick Cutter House hits close to home, Leal found his passion for this work 20 years previously.

“In 1997, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate with the Texas Historical Society in a long and complex process restoring The Murphy Ranch House, a historic stagecoach stop, in Mathis, Texas,” Leal said.

Leal discovered how restoration work tapped into his professional carpentry skills and complemented his interest in research, history, and replicating the fine craftsmanship of early immigrants. The work revealed a talent and a passion for historic restoration that, until then, he hadn’t discovered about himself.

“Houses tell a story,” Leal said. “I sometimes think these beautiful, yet neglected, homes and buildings speak to me and tell me what they need to be revived to their former glory. These pieces of history need to be saved.”

See more of Al’s work at his website www.alsoldhouserepair.com

At a Glance

Al’s Old House Repair
804 North Seward Street
Red Cloud, NE 68970

Feature photo: Al Leal, owner of Al's Old House Repair, points out features of the Matthew R. Bentley/Wick Cutter House in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He began work on exterior and interior restorations in 2016.

Top photo: Al showing original wood at Kaly House, a bed and breakfast in Red Cloud, Nebraska. He completed exterior and interior restorations from 2010 to 2013.

Bottom photo: Dena Beck, REAP senior project leader and loan specialist, stands on the front porch of the Kaly House with Al. REAP provided Al's Old House Repair with a microloan.  Read more about Artist, craftsman, historian: one carpenter, many passions

  • Small Business
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Behavioral and mental health access lags in rural areas

Note: On Sept. 8, this was offered as testimony in support of LR 238 in Nebraska, an interim study to examine the feasibility of acquiring funding for behavioral and mental health internship programs at the doctoral level in rural Nebraska.

The demographic challenges that try rural communities in nearly all aspects of health care delivery are also prominent in the delivery of behavioral and mental health care services. Rural populations as a whole are older and have fewer financial resources. On average, this population possesses higher uninsured and Medicaid rates and more health concerns.

The rural population in Nebraska also follows these trends, as the median age of rural Nebraskans is 44 years of age compared to the urban population median age of 38. In 2015, rural Nebraskans earned $9,400 less in median income than the urban cohort’s median income. Rural Nebraskans also lag in self-reported health status. The rate of uninsured rural Nebraskans is 13 percent compared to 10 percent of urban residents.

The health care landscape is shifting. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the inclusion of mental health care as an essential benefit some financial barriers to care have been broken down. Availability is limited, however, and many of our most vulnerable residents continue to live without needed care.

Availability of behavioral health care in rural Nebraska

Referring to an analysis of 2012 statistics of the behavioral health care workforce in Nebraska, workforce shortages in this health care sector are unique to rural areas.

It was found that the state ratio of psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents was 8.4. This far exceeds the ratio of 3.3 psychiatrists for 100,000 which qualifies as a health professional shortage area (HPSA) as defined by the Health Services and Resources Administration. However, when broken down by the geographical distribution of psychiatrists, this ratio fell to 3.8 for rural areas and 2.2 for frontier counties, the latter of which falls into a defined shortage area.

The scope of this shortage is further affirmed by the Nebraska Rural Health Advisory Commission, which reported that of the 90 counties under the commission’s jurisdiction, only two counties, Lincoln and Thurston counties, have adequate psychiatry and mental health staff. These compounded staffing concerns place severe limitations on rural residents’ ability to access the mental health care they may need.

Moreover, the 2016 Nebraska Behavioral Health Needs Assessment identified 78 Nebraska counties with high needs for mental health services on the basis of population and age ratios. Only two of these high needs counties fall within the state’s metro areas. Within these high needs counties there are often greater demands upon services that are left to fill the void of behavioral health services, such as law enforcement, child welfare, and foster care systems.

Impetus of the rural workforce challenges

Efforts to build and maintain an adequate behavioral and mental health workforce are not immune from the circumstances which plague general rural workforce development and retention initiatives. Concerns such as compensation, spousal employment, housing, extended commutes, and limited community amenities stand as barriers to the recruitment and retention of employees to rural areas in general. These barriers are heightened when consideration is given to the specificity of the behavioral and mental health professions.

A report published by the American Psychological Association outlines a number of unique factors contributing to the detraction of doctoral level behavioral and mental professionals from considering or exiting rural practice. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • Scope and variety of client needs;
  • Being quickly moved from working directly with patients to supervisory or administrative roles;
  • Competition with public sector services and providers;
  • Cultural barriers and lack of respect for the profession from patients and community members;
  • Reliance upon informal sources of care, such as neighbors and religious organizations;
  • High rates of professional burnout and emotional exhaustion;
  • Social stigma and denial of need for care;
  • Dual relationships, where the lines between patient and doctor are blurred with social and business relationships; and
  • Limited integration with primary care services.

While complex and situational, solutions are offered to address the challenges of building and maintaining a rural behavioral and mental health workforce; key among the proposed solutions is addition of practicum and internship opportunities in rural settings. Previously, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Clinical Psychology Training Program was noted for its moderate success of placing psychologist in rural service as a result of a rural specialty track. This specialty track has since been eliminated, but similar programs have been adopted in other rural states facing similar workforce challenges. Yet practicum and internships opportunities offer only a limited solution to a broader challenge.

When times are tough, there is an increased need for behavioral health services

As prospects for Nebraska’s agricultural economy remain bleak, the need for behavioral health services in Nebraska’s rural counties will continue to increase. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that workers in the agricultural occupational group have the highest suicide rate of any group. While the reasons for suicide vary, factors and stressors such as “financial losses, social isolation, and unwillingness to seek mental health services” may contribute to the suicide rates of those in the agriculture industry.

While these developments will exacerbate the current shortage of licensed psychiatrists and psychologists, there is further strain on the behavioral health sector due to the lack of trained nursing staff to assist with inpatient and substance abuse treatment stays. The reasons for these staff limitations range from recruitment and retention, reimbursement rates and licensure issues for those in rural practices.

The legislature has a responsibility to respond. In addition to the considerations explored in this interim study, we recommend that further opportunities for the integration of care between primary care providers and specialized mental health care professionals be pursued. Doctoral prepared behavioral and mental health professionals offer only one level of care. By leveraging the capacity of these mental health professionals through stronger integration with primary care physicians, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses and even the utilization of telehealth services, a broader network of care can be established and more Nebraskans with mental and behavioral health needs will be served.

We need to serve the behavioral and mental health needs

While all of Nebraska is reeling from the downturn of the agricultural commodities market, we need to continue to seek opportunities to serve the behavioral and mental health needs of rural residents by encouraging the further integration of these specialized services. We ask that further budget consideration be given to increasing behavioral health and funding opportunities to match the growing needs across the state. Read more about Behavioral and mental health access lags in rural areas

  • Rural Health
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Numbers don’t lie: Women’s Business Center stats add up to success

October is Women’s Small Business Month, a perfect time to reflect on the growth and success of Women’s Business Centers all over the U.S.

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project Women’s Business Center is in its 16th year of funding. Between Sept. 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017, business specialists and contractors have offered:

  • 2,548 hours of business counseling (including preparation hours)
    • 584 clients served
  • 143 training opportunities
    • 1,048 clients
    • 68 percent of the trainees were women

Let’s take a look at stats from Women’s Business Centers in Nebraska.

  • 51,936 women-owned businesses; an increase of 10,936 businesses, or 26.7 percent, from 2007
  • 32.5 percent privately-held businesses owned by women; up from 26.8 percent in 2007
  • 7.6 percent revenue is generated by women-owned businesses, or $6.9 billion of receipts
  • 86.9 percent of women-owned firms are sole proprietorships, with receipts of $619.2 million
  • 44,915 people employed by the remaining 11.2 percent of women-owned firms, in addition to the owner
  • $1.3 billion paid to employees by women-owned employers; a $88.6 million, or 7.3 percent increase, since 2007

Nationally, growth has been seen in Women’s Business Centers:

  • Over 100 centers opened in the U.S. and its territories
  • 38 languages offered
  • 145,415 clients served
  • $229,771 is the average revenue of in-business clients
  • $658 million of total revenue growth
  • 96 percent is the average revenue growth rate
  • $31,293 of average revenue growth
  • 23,471 total new jobs
  • 9 percent is the average employment growth rate
  • 12 percent obtained new financing (totaling an estimated $429 million)
  • 37 percent of pre-ventures started their businesses
  • 17,435 new businesses

Clients’ thoughts on Women’s Business Centers:

  • 60 percent changed business practices as a result of working with providers
  • 91 percent would recommend Women’s Business Centers
  • 37 percent increased sales as a result of assistance

Join us in celebrating Women’s Business Centers this month. To learn more about our Women’s Business Center, click here. For training opportunities, click here. Read more about Numbers don’t lie: Women’s Business Center stats add up to success

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America's family farmers and ranchers let down 

Family farmers and ranchers have waited years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to institute basic fairness protections in the poultry and livestock industries.

However, last week, officials announced a rollback of two rules of the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA); decided not to move forward with an interim final rule of the Farmer Fair Practices; and said they will take no further action on a proposed regulation of the Farmer Fair Practices Rule.

Poultry and livestock production is an important source of jobs and income for many in rural communities. A healthy and stable community depends not on the number of livestock produced, but on the number of livestock producers living and working there.

The rolled back rules would have made the marketplace more friendly to family farmers and ranchers, allowing for more small businesses in our communities.

The Center for Rural Affairs works hard for genuine opportunity for family farms and ranches, beginning with our organization’s inception in 1973.

In 1997, we had a seat in Washington when our executive director was nominated to the National Commission on Small Farms. Together, members produced a report, “A Time to Act,” calling for livestock market reforms.

Two years later, we asked the agriculture secretary to utilize his authority and write a rule providing a definition for what constitutes an “undue or unreasonable preference” as prohibited by the Packers and Stockyards Act. He declined to act.

During both the 2002 and 2008 farm bill debates, the Center called for the inclusion of a livestock market competition title. In 2008, those efforts were rewarded with a provision. As a result, USDA published a proposed rule in 2010 after hearing concerns raised by family farmers and ranchers across the country regarding fair livestock and poultry markets. Last October, the rule was submitted to the White House.

Last week, this rule was shut down, alongside two GIPSA rules.

Farmers, ranchers, and consumers would have benefited from the competitive, transparent markets these rules would help protect. Our fight for fairness has not ended. Call your lawmakers today and urge them to reconsider. Read more about America's family farmers and ranchers let down 

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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NE Property Tax Question Looms Ahead of 2018 Session

By Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska News Service

With the state unicameral legislature out of session until 2018, policy advocates are using the downtime to drum up conversations about imbalances in the state's tax system, particularly agricultural property taxes. 

Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says shifts in land values resulted in an annual property tax increase of about 11 percent on agricultural land from 2005 to 2014. 

And that's resulted in an over reliance on local funding for counties and education. 

While there's no one size fits all solution, Rasmussen maintains rural and urban leaders need to work together to address the problem.

"Something has to happen in this session, because the rural populations are just really struggling to come away with any income when the property tax bill is so high, and revenues are so low when you're selling corn as cheaply as it is going for right now," she stresses.

The Center for Rural Affairs is holding community conversations around the state to get input from property owners and local leaders. 

Several are scheduled for November, including a town hall in Genoa with Sen. Curt Friesen (D-34) on Nov. 7.

Rasmussen says the imbalance is felt particularly by school districts, with their primary funding source as local property taxes. 

She says Nebraska's education funding formula leaves a number of districts without state money, backing them into a corner. 

"Even though they don't want to, they have to continue to go back to the ag land property owners and those homeowners in their districts, to secure the resources that they need for everyday functionality,” she says. “Paying the teachers, keeping lights on, making sure the boilers are working, things of that nature."

While some argue that schools are spending too much money, Rasmussen disagrees. 

She explains many rural areas are seeing spending increases of just 2 to 3 percent each year, which is quickly absorbed by operating costs. Read more about NE Property Tax Question Looms Ahead of 2018 Session

  • Farm Policy
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Rural Red Alert: Tell your representative to vote no on tax cuts for the wealthy

Both the U.S. House and Senate have passed their versions of a budget resolution, including “reconciliation” instructions to cut spending and pave the way for Congress to pass sweeping tax cuts for the wealthy with only 51 votes.

While the Senate and House bills differ greatly, the latest reports suggest the House is looking to accept the Senate version and vote on the bill TODAY.

The Senate budget resolution proposes $5.8 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade. Rural communities will bear the brunt of funding cuts. Will you call your representative today?

All of this is on a fast track, which is why we need you to call your representative today and tell them to vote NO on tax cuts that will benefit the wealthiest and force huge funding cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, and more.

The bill includes $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy, but does not include how that revenue will be made up.

Tax cuts of this magnitude will certainly impact how much the Agriculture Committees can invest in beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as farmland conservation programs, once they begin to reauthorize the federal farm bill.

Call your representative TODAY! Tell them to vote NO on tax cuts, and that rural Americans shouldn't have to pay the price of a tax cut for the wealthy.

After that, call both U.S. Senators and tell them the same thing.

Please let us know what you hear! Thank you for taking action TODAY! Read more about Rural Red Alert: Tell your representative to vote no on tax cuts for the wealthy

  • Farm Policy
  • Small TownsCommunity Development
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Center for Rural Affairs September and October newsletter

Note from the editor:

This edition of our newsletter focuses on STEWARDSHIP of the natural environment upon which all of us – current and future generations – rely. 

Lowell and Milissa Osborne, who live on the Omaha Indian Reservation, know what it’s like to be stewards of the land. Bees moved onto their land, so they gave the bees a home and a chance to be productive. They study companion planting and treat the land with care, so the land will take care of them. Read more about Center for Rural Affairs September and October newsletter

An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill

Today, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) released its comprehensive 2018 farm bill policy platform, "An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill." 

NSAC has been a leader in agricultural policy for more than 30 years, and has been instrumental in helping to develop some of our nation’s most successful agricultural programs for conserving natural resources, advancing the next generation of farmers, supporting agricultural research, and creating farm to fork market connections. The Center for Rural Affairs is one of NSAC’s 120 member organizations that put together these recommendations after months of working closely with each other and with grassroots stakeholders on the ground. 

"An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill" provides a comprehensive vision for a more sustainable farm and food system based on the expert analysis and experience of farmers and ranchers and the groups who represent them.

“NSAC has spent the last two years hosting farmer listening sessions and working closely with our members to ensure that our farm bill recommendations were informed and guided by the experiences of family farmers and ranchers,” said Greg Fogel, NSAC policy director. “We heard a lot of positive feedback about experiences with USDA programs, but we also learned that many producers and rural communities are continuing to struggle and are in need of the kind of deep and long-lasting support Congress can provide in the 2018 farm bill. 'An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill' touches on nearly all titles of the farm bill and provides detailed recommendations on how Congress can build upon the successes of the 2014 farm bill to help farmers and ranchers ensure a robust and thriving American agricultural system for years to come.”

NSAC 2018 Farm Bill priorities include:

Increasing Farming Opportunity: Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Nearly 100 million acres of farmland (enough to support tens of thousands of new family farms and ranches) is set to change hands during the next five years – during the course of our next farm bill. To keep our agricultural economy strong, we need to facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations of family farmers.

The 2018 farm bill should support aspiring and retiring farmers and ranchers by:

  • Expanding beginning farmers’ access to affordable farmland;
  • Empowering new farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy;
  • Ensuring equitable access to credit and the federal crop insurance program; and
  • Encouraging a heightened commitment to advanced conservation and stewardship for a new generation.

Advancing Land Stewardship: Comprehensive Conservation Title Reform

Every day, American farmers and ranchers face a myriad of economic and environmental obstacles and challenges (e.g., extreme weather, soil and plant health issues, and pests) and work to overcome them. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs can help producers address these challenges by supporting agricultural resilience, strengthening their ability to absorb and recover from weather extremes and other shocks and stresses to their agricultural production systems and livelihoods.

The 2018 farm bill should empower farmers and ranchers with the skills, resources, and training necessary to ensure farms and food systems are resilient and healthy by:

  • Expanding program access to serve farmers of all types, sizes, and geography;
  • Enhancing impact by targeting dollars to the most effective conservation activities to solve priority resource concerns;
  • Improving support for conservation outreach, planning, and implementation support; and
  • Increasing effectiveness and efficiency through better measurement, evaluation, and reporting.

Investing in Growing Regional Food Economies: New Markets and Jobs

Consumer demand for local and regional products is on the rise, and this growing interest in the “farm to fork” pipeline is helping to open new markets and economic opportunities to farmers and ranchers across the nation. However, a lack of infrastructure (e.g., storage, aggregation, transportation, and processing capacity) and technical links (e.g., marketing and business planning) has made it difficult for many farmers and ranchers to update their businesses to reach these new customer bases.

The 2018 farm bill should help connect the dots by:

  • Helping farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance;
  • Increasing access to fresh, healthy, local food for children and low-income individuals and communities; and
  • Developing new and strengthening existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers.

Securing Seeds for the Future: Public Plant Breeding Research and Development

Diversification is a central tenet of any good risk management plan. In agriculture, biological diversity is key to ensuring success: having a variety of well-adapted crops not only reduces the impacts of extreme weather, pests, and disease, it also protects against price fluctuations in the market. Yet, the federal investment in public plant breeding research and development has fallen precipitously, putting food security at risk. By re-investing in public plant breeding research and public cultivar development, we can better ensure that all farmers have access to high performing, locally adapted seeds.

The 2018 farm bill should keep American agriculture competitive and resilient by:

  • Increasing seed options to expand farmers’ planting choices;
  • Boosting investments in research to further crop diversity and enhance the security of our food system; and
  • Improving coordination and transparency to make strategic public and private investments.

Aligning Risk Management, Conservation, and Family Farming: Crop Insurance Modernization

The federal crop insurance program is a cornerstone of the farm safety net, but it must be improved to better serve all of America’s farmers and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. In its current form, the program has limited utility for certain types of farms and farmers in many areas of the country; it discourages sustainable farming practices like cover cropping while encouraging some unsustainable practices like short rotations; and it precipitates farm consolidation through its unlimited subsidies.

The 2018 farm bill should modernize federal crop insurance by:

  • Expanding access to better serve all types of farmers in all regions of the country;
  • Promoting conservation by eliminating insurance program barriers to sustainable farming practices and linking premium subsidies to stewardship practices that protect our land, water, and health;
  • Reforming the program’s structure to prevent the program from unfairly influencing markets, land access, or planting decisions and from promoting farm consolidation and weakened rural communities; and
  • Improving delivery to make the program more transparent and efficient.

NSAC Positions on Other Key Farm Bill Issues

In addition to the priorities outlined above, NSAC will advocate for 2018 farm bill provisions that will:

  • Advance racial equity in the food and farm system;
  • Reverse the trend of rapid consolidation and vertical integration in agriculture;
  • Increase access to healthy food, particularly for vulnerable children;
  • Close commodity subsidy loopholes and includes reasonable subsidy limits;
  • Focus farm loan programs on family-sized farms and historic target constituencies, including beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers;
  • Reaffirm USDA’s Rural Development Mission Area and creates new rural business investment opportunities;
  • Scale up funding for sustainable agriculture and organic research, education, and extension; and
  • Focus renewable energy programs on solar, wind, and perennial-based biofuels.

The full platform can be viewed online at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/

The Center for Rural Affairs is a member of The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at: http://sustainableagriculture.net Read more about An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Local FARMS Act feeds rural economies

Last week, the Local Food and Regional Market Supply Act (The Local FARMS Act) was introduced in Congress by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

Through an investment in programs and policies that spur economic development, the act prioritizes the development of new markets for farmers and expanded healthy food access for American families.

The Center for Rural Affairs has long supported local foods as an economic development tool in rural communities, working with community leaders to build healthy, sustainable, local food systems. We support the Local FARMS Act.

Where our food comes from matters – for our health, for the vitality of our communities, for our wallets, and for the environment. One of our goals is to connect the local people who grow and make food with the local people who eat it.

We work to connect farmers and consumers through community food systems and farm to school projects, providing workshops, webinars, and technical support.

The 2018 farm bill should include programs and resources to support producers who want to diversify their operations by connecting them with growing opportunities in local and regional marketplaces. Investment in infrastructure and support for local farmers boosts rural economies.

Findings from the Agricultural Census in 2007 and 2012 show that farmers who market food directly to consumers have a greater chance of remaining in business than similarly sized farms that market through traditional channels.

In 2015, more than 167,000 U.S. farms produced and sold food locally through food hubs and other intermediaries, direct farmer-to-consumer marketing, or direct farm to retail. Those sales resulted in $8.7 billion in revenue for local producers.

We stand with the Congressional sponsors of this legislation in calling for this critical investment in our food and farm future. The Local FARMS Act should be included in the 2018 farm bill.

Want to show your support for local foods in rural communities? Here’s how you can get involved:

A quick call to your representative expressing your support for this bill will make a big impact! Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202.224.3121.

Not sure what to say? Here is an example: “Hello, my name is _________, and I live in [town where you live, so they know you are a member of their district]. I’m calling to let Representative/Senator _________ know I support the Local FARMS Act. I support local farmers, and I want good food in my community. Thank you!”

Did you call? Let us know! Contact me at coraf@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 x 1012.

Learn more about the bill here. Read more about Local FARMS Act feeds rural economies

  • Farm Policy
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from USDA program, according to report

Today, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released findings from the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).

The report, "Cultivating the Next Generation," reveals the impact that this unique program – currently the only federal program explicitly dedicated to training the next generation of farmers – has had since it first received funding in the 2008 farm bill. Authors also look at factors that lead to more successful new farmer training projects, and identifies areas in which BFRDP can be improved to better support the next generation.

The Center for Rural Affairs was a part of an advisory team made up of beginning farmer practitioners and agricultural policy experts that informed the evaluation.

“With the 2018 farm bill on the horizon and Congress weighing the fate of many valuable USDA programs, it is now more important than ever that we be able to accurately assess their true impact,” said Juli Obudzinski, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition deputy policy director. “BFRDP has been a critical support program for countless beginning farmers and ranchers, and this report helps put the importance of the program’s training and outreach efforts into perspective.”

BFRDP has had many successes over the last decade. The program is helping to grow the next generation of farmers, building up agricultural infrastructure, and continues to innovate new ways to support entrepreneurship through farmer training projects. Since 2008, BFRDP has invested roughly $150 million in more than 250 new farmer training projects across the country.

“Farmers entering agriculture today have very different needs than those who came generations before them,” said Obudzinski. “They are facing new and unprecedented challenges, challenges that training and outreach programs like BFRDP empower them to overcome.”

The report finds that BFRDP funded projects are showing real outcomes – surveyed project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture following program completion.  BFRDP has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.

Other key report findings include:

  • Over 60,000 beginning farmers have been impacted directly by BFRDP projects;
  • Almost all projects focused on farmers in their first five years of farming, with a significant focus on those farmers starting out at a small-scale;
  • Over half of all projects served socially disadvantaged farmers as their primary audience;
  • Over 90 percent of projects included farm business management training, and more than a third helped new farmers access land and capital; and
  • More than two-thirds of projects offered intensive programs, lasting months or even several years, designed to move aspiring farmers quickly into production.

The report also includes recommendations on opportunities for improvement in the program, including: continuing long-term investments in new farmer training and evaluation, deepening farmer engagement in program development, and improving the grant reporting process to ensure consistency in outcome data.

“Interest in agriculture as a career is growing,” said Obudzinski. “And as our current generation of farmers and ranchers prepares for retirement, so too is our need for new, talented producers who can replace them. It is our hope that this analysis will provide a better understanding of the value and impact of BFRDP in training the next generation, and help to make the program even stronger going forward.”

To download the full report, visit: http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/bfrdp/

The Center for Rural Affairs is a member of The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more and get involved at: http://sustainableagriculture.net

About the Report: The report’s two lead evaluators, Jan Perez from the University of California-Santa Cruz and consultant Ann Williams, have years of expertise evaluating beginning farmer training programs. This evaluation was also informed by an Advisory Team of beginning farmer practitioners and agricultural policy experts. Advisory Team members include: Center for Rural Affairs, CROPP Cooperatives, Land for Good, Land Stewardship Project, the National Young Farmers Coalition, and the University of California-Berkeley.

This project was supported by the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Read more about Beginning farmers and ranchers benefit from USDA program, according to report

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Ensure your legacy and impact by contributing to the Granary Foundation

Did you know the Center for Rural Affairs has an endowment? We do! It’s called the Granary Foundation, and it exists to ensure the Center can continue doing our important work in rural America for generations to come.

Through the years, many of you have made investments in the Center, its work, and the future of rural America. Those investments have gone a long way toward establishing a brighter, stronger rural future. Making a contribution to the Granary Foundation is a great way to secure your legacy and impact.

There are many ways to contribute to the Granary Foundation. 

  1. A gift of cash, stock, or grain/livestock: these continue to be the easiest ways to give, and can result in significant tax savings.
  2. Mandatory minimum Individual Retirement Account (IRA) distribution: If you are over 70½ years old and have an existing IRA, you can make gifts of up to $100,000 directly from your IRA.
  3. Hank Rohling Land Legacy gifts: Through a program named in honor of our friend and colleague, Hank Rohling, the Granary Foundation accepts gifts of land. Land received as a legacy gift will be used to help beginning farmers and ranchers get their starts.
  4. Charitable gift annuities: You can establish a charitable gift annuity through the Center. In doing so, a contract is established between yourself and the Center. Annuities are a great way to make contributions to the Granary, achieve significant tax benefits, and establish a steady, regular income for yourself or designated beneficiary.
  5. Bequests and charitable remainder trusts: Consider making the Granary Foundation a beneficiary of your estate or trust. You can reference a dollar amount or percentage of assets, or percentage of remaining assets after everything else is settled.
  6. Life insurance policy and retirement funds: Do you have established life insurance policy or retirement funds you no longer need? You can reassign the Center as a beneficiary. 

On behalf of the Center and everyone who cares deeply about the rural parts of our nation, thank you for your support. Your dedication to ensuring a stronger and brighter future for rural America is inspirational. We are proud to be doing this important work with you.

Feature photo: There are many ways you can contribute to the Granary Foundation, which is the Center for Rural Affairs’ endowment fund. Contact Tyler for more information. | Photo by Kylie Kai Read more about Ensure your legacy and impact by contributing to the Granary Foundation


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