Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

At our June meeting, the Center’s Board of Directors backed a proposal to fix the broken immigration system. Board president and Fullerton, Nebraska, farmer Jim Knopik noted that immigration reform is at the top of the national agenda. Given that, it is important to emphasize that rural communities have much to gain from fixing current immigration policy.

The Center’s policy calls for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who fulfill the requirements. Noting that it is important to resolve the current challenge of undocumented immigrants already here and provide for a more robust system of legal immigration in the future, the board’s proposal calls for an independent commission to set practical and appropriate limits for future legal immigration.

The board’s policy also called for stricter enforcement of existing labor laws and of the prohibition on hiring undocumented immigrants and falsely classifying them as independent contractors.

Under current law, the United States admits only 10,000 manually skilled workers on work visas each year. That is only about 1 for every 100 immigrants who enter without a visa and find work. The door to legal, documented immigration used by earlier generations is today largely closed for all but the wealthy and well-educated.

Reforming this system and more fully engaging immigrants in rural communities and American democracy through support for minority business development, voter registration, leadership development, and other means will bring people together and build community.

You can find the Center’s statement on immigration here. Read more about Center’s Board Calls for Action on Immigration

  • Small Towns
  • Small TownsInclusion

House of Representatives Rejects Farm Bill

Today the House of Representatives rejected final passage of the House Farm Bill by a 234-195 vote.
In an even more historic move, however, the full house voted 230 to 194 in favor of an amendment offered by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) that would cap farm program payments so they support family farmers and ranchers, not passive investors and mega-farmers.

We thank Representative Fortenberry for leading the charge to close the gaping loopholes that have made a mockery of farm program payment limitations. His tireless advocacy for reducing the subsidies that mega-farms use to drive family farmers out of business is laudable.
The House Farm Bill failed in part because of huge cuts to the food stamp program. Also, the rules established for the debate didn't allow for consideration of needed reforms to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.

The House Rules Committee didn't allow amendments that would have reduced premium subsidies for those making over $750,000 in adjusted gross income. Nor did they allow a vote on an amendment that would have placed a cap on federal crop insurance premium subsidies to mega farmers. 
Representative Fortenberry’s amendment was a good amendment, an historic silver lining, in a farm bill that otherwise did not adequately reflect rural America’s most important priorities. The failure of this farm bill vote sends a clear signal that the Farm Bill needs much greater reform to achieve passage. Read more about House of Representatives Rejects Farm Bill

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
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Monopoly Should Only Be a Board Game

I have long had a knack for successful strategy in playing Monopoly. As an adult though, I began to notice a strange feeling when I played. Unlike sporting activities like golf, tennis, and baseball or pretty much any other board game, Monopoly just didn’t seem fun when I was winning.

Watching people struggle to come up with funds to survive was a drag, even in a play environment. And once all competitors were ground into submission, progress came to an end.

This philosophy reflects real life. Monopoly is over-concentrated power by another name. Monopoly in an industry hinders progress as the monopolist seeks to “skim the cream” and maximize profits at the expense of re-investment.

Over-concentrated power in society disadvantages the common good. Instead of striving for everyone to progress, over-concentrated power seeks to maintain and capitalize on the status quo by whatever means it can. Whether concentrated power is wielded by corporations, government, or an unwholesome combination, its consequences harbor disadvantages for democracy.

British historian Lord Acton once wrote: “all power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He wasn’t suggesting that people who are corrupted by exercising power are necessarily evil. Rather, the outcomes of absolute power may embody truly horrendous consequences.

Corruptive misuse of power can come about gradually, in not easily observed stages. But it may also start gradually and then accelerate aggressively. In the two decades between World Wars I and II, Germany witnessed a slow, steady concentration of political power. What followed was a fast and ruthless power consolidation, giving rise to a brutal totalitarian regime.

Our republic is founded on principles of widely distributed political power that should not be sacrificed by acquisition of unwarranted influence. This is the pure ideal upon which liberty is based, that democracy is meant to represent, and upon which our republic is dependent.

Long live democracy and death to concentrated power. Keep the harmful consequences of too heavily concentrated power limited to the Monopoly board game. Read more about Monopoly Should Only Be a Board Game

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Sioux Chef Recipes from the Santee Garden and Market Project

Featuring simple cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients from your garden or farmers market!

Sioux Chef was a crowd-funded project to bring fresh food cooking back to Santee. In 2012, fresh foods were barely available in Santee. New gardens and farmers markets began to change that. These recipes from the Sioux Chef project made newly available fresh foods accessible and useful with simple, tasty, fresh food recipes for all. Read more about Sioux Chef Recipes from the Santee Garden and Market Project

Farm Bill Debate Turns to House of Representatives

On June 10, the US Senate passed their version of the 2013 Farm Bill. And the House of Representatives has taken up the Farm Bill this week.

We applaud the Senate for passing a Farm Bill that closes the gaping loopholes that have made a mockery of farm program payment limitations. And we thank Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) for their tireless advocacy for reducing the subsidies that mega-farms use to drive family farmers out of business.

However, moving the same reforms forward in the House of Representatives, as their Farm Bill moves to the floor, will be a longer row to hoe. Fortunately, Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) will offer an amendment virtually identical to the provision Senators Grassley and Johnson worked to include in the Senate Farm Bill. Crucial decisions about this farm bill will be made in a House and Senate Conference Committee, making Rep. Fortenberry’s payment limits amendment even more crucial to pass in the House.

Likewise, the full Senate accepted an amendment offered by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Senator Dick Durbin that reduces crop insurance premiums subsidies for the nation’s wealthier farms. We urge Representatives to add the same income test to crop insurance premium subsidies that the Senate accepted. Even better, there is likely to be a House amendment to apply the Grassley-Johnson payment limit rules to crop insurance premium subsidies. Rural America wants and needs a Farm Bill that includes these crucial reforms. Read more about Farm Bill Debate Turns to House of Representatives

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Wind Energy To Market

For decades we have been searching for ways to get the goods we produce to market. We started with railroad tracks. From there we focused on highways, and eventually the Interstate Highway System.

Today we turn our attention to transmission lines.

Access to transmission is the biggest obstacle to a thriving wind energy industry. Each year hundreds of wind energy projects remain stalled as developers wait their turn to get the energy they produce to consumers. This is a big problem in South Dakota, home to some of the best wind resources in the world.

That’s why Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Company are working to build a new 70-mile, 345 kV transmission line between Big Stone City and Brookings.  This is one of 16 multi-value projects designed to open the Upper Midwest and Great Plains to further wind development.

Earlier this month Xcel and Otter Tail filed a permit application with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will hold a public meeting, meant to share information and get the input of community members impacted by the line, July 31 at 6:30 p.m. at McCrory Gardens in Brookings.

Clean energy transmission delivers low cost power, creates a reliable electric grid, and jump starts an industry important to all of us. To be built the right way each project must consider the opinions of those impacted, enable new wind projects, and treats landowners fairly.

Your opinion helps make this a community project that works for everyone involved.

Read more about Wind Energy To Market

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Transmission and Your Business

When something as big as a new transmission line is being built in your area, you won’t be blamed for asking a few good questions.  Where will the line be located? Do I have any say in the process? How will this project improve my community?

Fortunately, the Center for Rural Affairs understands your concerns. Clean Line does too. That’s why they’re holding a round of open houses to introduce the Grain Belt Express.

While this isn’t the first meeting designed to introduce the project and answer your questions, Clean Line has added a new twist. This time the open house will focus on business opportunity along the route.

Do you have a small business that might benefit? Perhaps you’re a contractor, a supplier, or provide a service critical to the siting and construction process. If so, there’s a good chance that Clean Line wants to hear from you.

While clean energy transmission can give rise to plenty of questions and more than enough complaints, it can also be a positive for you and your community. Transmission enables new wind generation, which adds jobs and boosts county-level income. Construction of the line will require local workers and locally sourced goods. This project alone will provide more than 5,000 jobs to construct the transmission line and wind farms and more than 500 permanent jobs to maintain and operate them.

The open houses are taking place June 25th through the 27th in Mexico, Moberly, Chillicothe, and Hannibal. Visit to learn more.

Read more about Transmission and Your Business

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Number 34 Had It Right

A prudent visionary addresses his nation: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machine of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

He expresses deep concern for the well-being of our posterity:

“Each proposal must be weighed in light of the need to maintain balance in and among national programs … balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

Who was that prudent visionary? Dwight D. Eisenhower – a well-respected five star general in the US Army, appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. He later became the 34th President of the United States.

In his farewell address near the end of his presidency, he warns his fellow countrymen of the potential dangers of the military-industrial complex. He clearly points out that we must guard against those who will seek to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a favored elite.

A military hero of our nation who played a significant role in overcoming a horrendous evil of the 20th century, a political moderate of the Republican party, goes on to warn fellow citizens of the dangers he sees brewing in his homeland. Has that early wake-up call been heeded sufficiently?

Increasingly, concentrated wealth, often under the guise of large corporations, is driving the political agenda and eroding the fertile soil of our democracy. Are we to let this happen to our children, grandchildren, and beyond? For the present common good and the well being and liberty of future generations, let us stand strong against this perilous concentration of wealth and power that so threatens our beloved democratic principles.

In rural America, we can start by aggressively pushing for policies that put small and beginning farmers and ranchers and main street business owners on a level playing field with over-subsidized and over-coddled large agribusiness and other mega-corporate interests. It won’t correct things overnight, but it would be a triumphant and sizeable step in the right direction.

And I’m absolutely certain number 34 would wholeheartedly approve. Read more about Number 34 Had It Right

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More than a Farm Wife

Farm Wife. That’s what we call women who drive tractors, haul grain, gather cattle, run to town for parts, and cook supper, all with kiddos in tow. Often “farm wives” downplay their contributions to their farming operations, dismissing their involvement in the day-to-day operations including marketing and accounting.

A new Center for Rural Affairs project with the Women Food and Agriculture Network in Iowa aims to empower women as knowledgeable, business-savvy, focused owners and operators of farms and ranches.  More than farm wives.

Women are responding - telling us they need training and access to financial resources to get started in agriculture. Our Farm Dreams workshop in Syrcause, Nebraska, last month did just that.  The training helped aspiring women farmers and ranchers focus their farm dream to an achievable goal, identify financial resources and get started developing a business plan.

The women in attendance brought innovative ideas and narrowed them down to mission statements, integrating the most important aspects on their operations, including healthy soil and water, community involvement and social responsibility. I was especially inspired by a young woman dreaming of starting her own medicinal herb farm. More than a farm wife, for sure.

The Center for Rural Affairs supports women at all stages of their operations. Please call or email me, Virginia Meyer ( or 402.687.2103 ext. 1014 for more information on our work with women farmers and ranchers.  Read more about More than a Farm Wife

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food

Pollination Preservation: Project Kicks off During National Pollinator Week

A crucial segment of Nebraska’s population is in rapid decline. And Nebraska’s thriving Ag industry depends on these residents...pollinators.

The insects that pollinate native plants and crops are essential components of Nebraska’s agriculture, habitats, and ecosystems. Pollinator habitat and many wild pollinators are disappearing from Nebraska’s landscape. Presence of wild pollinators can equal preservation of rare plants.

A new effort to publicize the importance and plight of pollinators is taking root in several Nebraska communities. The “Pollination = Preservation” project will increase pollinator populations and public awareness of pollinator protection through pollinator habitat development and restoration along the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway. Local residents and visitors will discover the importance of pollinators and their role in the ecosystem.

Butterfly/pollinator gardens will attract and sustain pollinators, resulting in improved wildlife habitat. Technical assistance will help communities and individuals develop gardens. The project boosts ecotourism options for Nebraska’s Junk Jaunt® tourism promotions, which recruits visitors from other towns and states.

The new project kicks off on June 20 during the heart of the national celebration “Pollinator Week” (June 17-23, 2013) at Fort Hartsuff (located 10 miles Southeast on NE Hwy 11 to Elyria, 3 ½ miles North), from 1:00-3:00 p.m. Dr. Marion D. Ellis, a professor of entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will describe the importance of pollinators.

“Pollinators are vital to the production of over 95 crops grown in the US. They also pollinate plants that provide food for wildlife, plants that conserve and add nitrogen to soil, and many wildflowers that beautify our landscapes,” said Ellis. “Nebraska enjoys an abundance of native and managed bees that are increasingly stressed by declining nesting and foraging habitats. The best way to conserve all bees is to provide nesting and foraging habitats, especially in areas of intensive agriculture.”

According to Dr. Ellis, honey bees pollinate U.S. crops worth over 19 billion dollars each year. “Native bees are highly diverse in both their distribution and abundance. Many plant and bee species are mutually dependent, and, if one disappears, the other will soon follow. In addition to their economic value, some native bees are as brilliantly colored as the flowers they frequent and are treasured for their intrinsic beauty.”

Project manager Janet Sanders, Executive Director of the Loup Basin RC&D and a member of the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway, says planting for the Fort Hartsuff butterfly garden should be underway by the kickoff celebration. Other activities include descriptions of tourism opportunities, plans for pollinator garden tours and educational activities, and invitations to participate in the project as communities or individuals. For more information, contact Janet Sanders, or 308.346.3393. Read more about Pollination Preservation: Project Kicks off During National Pollinator Week


Introducing the Energy Pyramid

Those of us who live and work in rural communities are experiencing the effects of extreme and unpredictable weather events first hand. Anyone tasked with planting this year – whether it’s the family garden or the back forty – knows that adaptation is the name of the game. You have to be flexible, ready to react when conditions are favorable and patient when they are anything but.

Because of this, attention to climate change grows every day. The more we learn, the more we understand the pivotal role our farms and rural communities will play moving forward. Recent policy actions like the Recovery Act and the yet to be passed Farm Bill have reinforced our focus on energy and agricultural issues. Both topics are critically important in the coming decades as we reconcile the need to reduce our consumption of non-renewable resources with struggling to feed a growing global population.

That’s where EnSave comes in. EnSave works at the intersection of agriculture and energy efficiency, partnering with American farmers to help make their operation more energy efficient while maximizing profitability. This is achieved by providing energy audits for thousands of farms and working with a variety of public and private entities to design and implement agricultural energy efficiency programs.

EnSave views conservation and efficiency as the first step in addressing energy independence. If energy needs could be reduced in the first place, we wouldn’t need to invest renewable resources in an inefficient process. Take a look at the “Energy Pyramid.” Energy analysis, conservation, and efficiency create the foundation of energy decision-making. After a farmer has made their operation as efficient as possible, they move up the pyramid to consider time of use management and renewable energy as they apply to their operation.

When we think about energy, we almost always think about renewables. As EnSave’s Energy Pyramid illustrates, often it makes the most sense to consider renewable energy only after all other parts of the pyramid have been reviewed. Before we invest in these worthy endeavors, let’s first make sure we’ve upgraded every inefficient light and motor.

Fortunately, the US Department of Agriculture is taking the energy pyramid approach to heart when designing programs. Both USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Energy Management Plans have provisions to address energy efficiency prior to the discussion of renewable energy. Both programs provide financial assistance to producers who implement energy efficiency projects on the farm – meaning that public funds are provided to energy efficiency first before renewable energy is considered.

While these efforts are encouraging there is still much to be done to steer our policy discussions back to energy efficiency as the first option. Then, we can roll up our sleeves and get to the hard work of actually implementing energy efficient technologies and then implementing renewable energy once agriculture has become as efficient as possible.

This article is co-authored by Amelia Gulkis, . Read more about Introducing the Energy Pyramid

  • Clean Energy

Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Turn to Farming as a Career

Last year we conducted a series of workshops for Armed Services veterans who want to farm. Boy did we learn a lot!

Nearly half the veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hailed from rural towns, and many now want to farm. A range of training and educational programs is becoming available around the country for these prospective farmers.

One pioneer is Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, with its special Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots business ownership and technical agriculture curriculum. Other classroom programs are run by university Extension services or community colleges, or hands-on training is provided by farms.

Our workshops for veterans provided face-to-face meetings between veterans and resource providers, conversations with farmers, and information on resources and strategies to begin farming and ranching. We included classroom sessions, farm tours, and a web broadcast with virtual farm tours. Kansas Farmers Union, our major partner on the project, held similar sessions in Kansas. The activities were funded by USDA Risk Management Agency.

We also engaged state AgrAbility projects, which provide technical advice to disabled farmers. Many of our participants had experienced some form of disability. They welcomed encouragement that a farm dream could be realized despite physical or emotional disability.

Veterans told us they preferred to attend these sessions alongside other veterans, rather than at public meetings. They felt other veterans would understand and support them because of their shared experiences. They also valued the opinions of other veterans over agencies and academics, especially veterans who had experienced the process of farm startup. Our virtual farm tour with former Marine Garrett Dwyer became an example of the intense interest his success generated among other veterans.

Most of the veterans who participated in Nebraska and Kansas had very limited resources, so were interested in starting small and with minimal financial risk. They wanted to know about high value crops and livestock, and direct marketing. Since that time, USDA Farm Service Agency has moved to implement a smaller, easier-to-apply “Microloan” program that fits this type of farming operation.

We also included a partner to specifically address the intersection of veteran benefits and farm startup. Farmer Veteran Coalition advises on farm business management, veterans’ benefits, and connecting with experienced farmer-veterans as mentors.

You’ll find links to these resources on our Veteran Farmers Project page. And the Farmer Veteran Coalition is assisting other training programs around the country. Read more about Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans Turn to Farming as a Career

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher

Nebraska Winds Blow Hard, but Renewable Energy Development Fails to Keep Pace

Wind energy is thriving, especially in the Midwest. Known for its huge agricultural potential, Midwestern states also have some of the best potential for wind power. That makes our region prime real estate for wind energy developers.

But our home state of Nebraska is being left behind by neighboring states. As a result, we’re missing out on the benefits of wind development. Nebraskans have watched development boom in nearby states due to incentives that draw developers.

This spring, we saw a promising bill make headway in the legislature. The bill, LB 402, would remove barriers to wind development and help us become competitive with our neighbors. It rewards developers for purchasing materials and services from Nebraska businesses.

LB 402 ensured that any wind development in Nebraska boosts our rural communities and as much investment as possible remains within our borders. It helps our businesses thrive and provides new opportunity for our labor force.

That was achieved in part through LB 402’s Employee Stock Ownership Provision. This provision offers incentives to developers who give workers an ownership stake in the projects they work on. Studies show that project performance increases dramatically when workers have a stake in the outcome.

When it comes to wind development, incentives pay off for communities indirectly as well. A good example is the small community of Petersburg, Nebraska. After hosting an 80 MW wind project near their community, the town of Petersburg was revitalized from the development. Construction workers for the project spent money locally, and permanent jobs were created in the community.

The key to unlocking the greatest benefit to communities is to get development in our state, and keep it local. LB 402 was a good step in expanding wind development, creating jobs, creating new businesses, and helping us reinvest in communities across Nebraska.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the Center for Rural Affairs and supporters, LB 402 did not pass during the legislative session. Senators attempted to amend another wind energy bill - LB 104. They proposed to add in provisions from LB 402 that would help increase wind development while also benefiting Nebraskans directly. But LB 104 passed without this amendment, and has moved on.

The Center will continue to work towards policies that will not only encourage wind energy development in Nebraska, but also to encourage local investment and the creation of a long-lasting industry for Nebraskans. Read more about Nebraska Winds Blow Hard, but Renewable Energy Development Fails to Keep Pace

  • Clean Energy

Countdown Begins for Health Insurance Exchanges

While it seems like summer is just beginning, October is right around the corner. Know what that means? Get ready for affordable health insurance! This October, your state will unroll its new health insurance marketplace, or “exchange.” This marketplace is where, if your employer doesn’t provide good health insurance, you’ll be able to shop for private health insurance that you can afford.

The marketplace is new, so you might have a few questions. Allow us to answer some for you!

Why should I buy insurance from the marketplace?
The private insurance plans sold in the marketplace will be easy to compare. They’ll all be written in simple language, and you’ll be able to easily see which one is best for you. It is also the only place to get federal subsidies to help make the private health insurance affordable.

How can you say the marketplace will be affordable?
If you are below 400 percent of poverty ($94,000 for a family of 4), the maximum you will pay for your health insurance is 9.5 percent of your income. The rest will be paid by a federal subsidy.

What if I have a “preexisting condition”? Can I still get insurance, and will I be able to afford it?
In the marketplace, insurance companies will take everyone. No rejections, no health questions, no checking your medical records. You’ll get charged the same as everyone else with a similar age, location, and family size. And the same federal subsidies will apply, to help keep it affordable.

Can I keep the insurance I have now. Is this true?
It is true – you’re still free to purchase any private insurance you choose or stick with the one your employer provides. It will have to meet some minimum standards of coverage to count.

Have questions of your own? Send them to me, and I’ll answer them for you - !

These articles are meant solely to answer questions we receive and provide general information about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Center for Rural Affairs does not offer or provide legal advice. CFRA is not an insurance agency, broker, or consultant; does not recommend any health insurance product or policy or provide any advice on the purchasing of health insurance; and does not accept any compensation or consideration from an insurance company, insurance broker, or insurance consultant. Read more about Countdown Begins for Health Insurance Exchanges

  • Rural Health


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