Bucking the Trend and Going Rural

When I left home for college, I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to the same rural community I was born and raised. But I did know that wherever I landed, it would be somewhere in rural America.

I recently read a Nebraska News Service article about Nebraska losing our younger, college-educated population to cities in other states. A source for the article pondered, “Why wouldn’t a college grad be drawn by the allure of life in a big city?” He saw Nebraska as one of the most remote and sparsely populated states in the country. He asked, “Why would talented young people not want to leave?”

My response is exactly the opposite. Why would anyone not want to stay?

After college graduation, I had no desire to strike out for the bright lights of a big city. I longed to be back to my rural roots, cowboy boots, and the life I loved so much.

I chose to live in a rural community not only because I love fresh air, wide open spaces, uninterrupted horizons, natural amenities, and serenity, but also because this is the best lifestyle and atmosphere for my children to thrive.

My own childhood growing up on a farm and ranch had its share of hard times. Yet it also provided me with some pretty amazing experiences. That’s the life I envision for my children as well.

The things I learned on the farm and ranch: responsibility, accountability, and respect for life and nature are the same things I hope to instill in my children.

And I want them to enjoy all the luxuries small towns and rural communities provide. I know my family is safe and secure. We know our neighbors, and many of them are like family (many actually are family). If someone in our community falls on hard times, someone is there to catch them and get them back on their feet.

I know my children are receiving an excellent education. Children thrive in smaller schools as well as smaller classes. They receive individualized attention and feel valued.

There is unlimited potential in rural America. And as my children grow, I hope they realize that.

Vast opportunities lie in rural America. Ventures in agriculture, small business and entrepreneurship, education, medical professions, production, the list goes on and on. It’s up to us: parents, teachers, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, small business owners – all who call rural America home, to encourage and educate our children that there is life in rural America. It is the land of opportunity.

When the time comes for my children to embark on their journey after high school, I hope they leave, get educated, and discover new things. But I also hope I have done a sufficient job in demonstrating that they can buck the trend (despite the “brain drain” phenom), come back to rural America (if they choose), and lead successful and fulfilling lives. Read more about Bucking the Trend and Going Rural

  • Small TownsCommunity Development
Your stories

Regulations Not One Size Fits All

We know by experience that without regulation, unscrupulous operators hurt people and undermine the common good. By cutting corners, they gain an unfair advantage over good farms and businesses that do things right. But regulations designed for big business and cities often don’t fit small enterprises and small communities.

I am no expert on regulation. But I hear a similar refrain across rural America. Policy makers should design alternative approaches for regulating small businesses and places to fit their circumstances, but still protect the public.

Small-town rescue squads are concerned about the difficulty of finding volunteers who can undergo the extensive training to meet EMS qualifications. If they can’t maintain local ambulance service, lives will be sacrificed. For heart-attack victims, the extra minutes for an ambulance from a larger town can be a matter of life and death.

In rural reaches of another state, small dairy farmers want to sell milk directly to consumers. But they can’t justify the several hundred thousand dollars investment in new facilities to legally sell milk. So instead, their customers share ownership in their cows to fall under the personal use exemption. These dairies live in fear of a state crackdown. Is an expensive building really the key to milk safety?

Another small dairy farmer set out to add value to his milk by producing cheese. Regulators said he must build on to his milking parlor. His cream separator, they said, couldn’t be in a room where milking equipment is stored. Is that really the key to producing safe cheese?

Small slaughter plants must pay a federal meat inspector to be present every time one animal is killed. That applies if the meat is sold. Is there not a more cost effective way of ensuring sound practices in small plants? Would frequent surprise inspections do the job at much lower cost?

Small banks have added staff to comply with new banking regulations. Regulation is needed to address the irresponsible practices of big banks and mortgage originators that brought our economy to its knees. The economic meltdown was in part prompted by repeal of New Deal bank regulations that kept banks out of risky investments.

The lesson of 2007 was abundantly clear. Bank regulation was needed. But it appears Congress in part hit the wrong target – small banks that did not cause the problem.

In each of these areas regulation is needed. We have to protect human health, the environment, and the common good. We know by experience that without regulation, unscrupulous operators hurt people and undermine the common good. By cutting corners, they gain an unfair advantage over good farms and businesses that do things right.

But regulation biased against the small undermines rural enterprise and the rural way of life. We need enlightened regulation. Read more about Regulations Not One Size Fits All

  • Small TownsCommunity Development

What Nebraska Loses Without LB 577, Initiative to Expand Medicaid Coverage

Nebraska and Nebraskans stand to suffer significant losses if the Nebraska Legislature fails to adopt LB 577, the bill that would implement the new Medicaid initiative for low-income working adults.

Money. The state will receive over $274 million in federal aid to implement the Medicaid initiative. The Legislature is turning its back on over $751,000 per day. Read more about What Nebraska Loses Without LB 577, Initiative to Expand Medicaid Coverage

Transmission and Teamwork

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of building clean energy transmission to meet the needs of local communities. It’s quite another to put those words into action. This year, the Center for Rural Affairs is doing just that.

We’ve teamed up with grassroots organizations throughout the Upper Midwest to better understand how to enable a new generation of wind projects in a way that works best for you. It’s our job to sit down with community members, work to understand their needs, and help answer their questions.

Where should the line be located? Which portions of your property are off-limits? What do you expect from your local utility? How can we help you participate in the process? These questions, and more, are being asked and answered at a dizzying pace as we help slow down the approval process and give landowners the attention they deserve.

As we begin to field these questions, we’ve picked up some help along the way.

In the Dakotas we’re joining forces with Dakota Rural Action and the Dakota Resource Council. These two groups are well respected throughout the region. They have the grassroots credibility needed to let landowners know we’re on their side. They are helping us out with two projects: Big Stone South to Brookings and Big Stone South to Ellendale.

In Iowa we’re partnering with the Iowa Environmental Council, a group that has done great work on transmission issues in the past. They have a track record of capably bringing important conservation and wildlife concerns to the table. We’re focusing on two projects in Iowa: Rock Island Clean Line and the Minnesota-Iowa MVP Project.

In Minnesota we’re teaming with Clean Up Our River Environment, a grassroots community group that has a sterling reputation for helping communities make their voices heard. Our Minnesota work covers that state’s portion of the Minnesota-Iowa MVP Project.

Want to learn more about the projects we’re working on? Visit our Map of Clean Energy Transmission Projects and send your questions our way. Read more about Transmission and Teamwork

  • Clean Energy

Corporate Farming Notes: GIPSA Rule

In March, the House of Representatives adopted a Senate-approved continuing resolution to fund federal spending through Sep 30, 2013. Unfortunately, two troubling legislative “riders” were included in the final legislation. The first sidestepped the 2008 Farm Bill provision that required the Secretary of Agriculture to write what is commonly called the GIPSA rule.

Meatpacking companies have used unfair contract terms, discriminatory premiums, and other sweetheart deals to favor large, industrial livestock operations over smaller family farmers and ranchers. The GIPSA rule would have allowed USDA to prevent that.

The legislative rider limits USDA’s ability to implement any new provisions of the GIPSA rule. But meatpackers and their allies also worked to include radical rider language that forces USDA to rescind existing portions of the GIPSA rule.

This rider takes the extraordinary step of rolling back previously approved and already implemented pieces of the GIPSA rule, over the objections of the Center for Rural Affairs, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farmers Union, R-CALF, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The GIPSA rider was not, however, the only ugly provision added by appropriators to the continuing resolution. The bill also included a legislative rider benefiting the biotech industry and undermining judicial review of transgenic crops. The rider permits USDA to deregulate genetically modified crops even in the case of a court ruling invalidating or vacating such deregulation.

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) undertook a dedicated effort to strike both riders from the Senate appropriations bill. Senator Tester, a long-time advocate for family farmers and ranchers across the country, joined Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to offer an amendment to remove the GIPSA rider.

He also worked with Senators Leahy, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) to offer an amendment to remove the biotechnology rider. Unfortunately, neither amendment was allowed to come to the Senate floor for a vote.

These senators deserve our thanks. They will need a lot more support to ensure these riders, which expire on Sep 30, do not slither back into future appropriations bills. Read more about Corporate Farming Notes: GIPSA Rule

  • Farm PolicyCorporate Farming

Land Link Sneak Peek

Working Small Dairy in Southeast Nebraska Seeks Successor: A Grade A dairy farm with 364 acres, a parlor and milk house, and various other outbuildings seeks a successor for the operation. The owners prefer to start with a full-time paid position to ensure a good fit for both parties. They would then sell the dairy to the employee. No on-farm housing is available at this time.

Wisconsin Acres in Expired Conservation Reserve Program with Usable Barn: A partner is needed for 56 acres owned by a Limited Liability Corporation comprised of four sisters in Wisconsin. The partner would help start a farm enterprise that includes vegetables, poultry, pork, and crops, using permaculture practices.

Use of the home on the property could be negotiated for the right renter. The owners are open to building on the property. They’re very interested in certifying the farm organic. The land has been in the Conservation Reserve Program for 20 years. It is immediately eligible for organic certification.

One owner has strengths in marketing and horticulture. She’d like to partner with someone who compliments those qualities. The owner has some capital to invest, but “bringing some cash to the table would help.” She also “likes people who think outside the box.”

Please contact me if you are interested in either opportunity. Reach me at 402.687.2100 or virginiam@cfra.org. You can learn more about the Center's Land Link services here. Read more about Land Link Sneak Peek

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher

Small Business: Is Your Farmers Market a Good Place to Start?

I love Farmers Markets. Love them. They play such an important role in our towns. It’s where we go to buy fresh eggs, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. Some markets also have craft vendors and artists. I go to every Farmers Market I can, not just for the food but also to get to the essence of community.

It’s a place where I can see my neighbors, meet new friends, and get to know the market vendors. It’s a place where people connect. It’s rare to see anyone at a Farmers Market who is not smiling, even a little bit. It’s a place where community is represented across age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

When we buy locally and support our local growers and vendors, that money goes right back into our local economy. I love Farmers Markets.

I realized the other day that a Farmers Market might be a great place to try out a new small business idea to see if it has legs. There certainly are advantages to testing out your small business idea at your local market. You can build up a clientele, a reputation, and tell your story while making money.

Selling at the market is not only a source of revenue. It’s also one of the best marketing opportunities available. It’s the best way I know to meet your customer face-to-face and start to build a relationship.

The customer gets to know you, and you get to know them. They learn your story – maybe you grow the strawberries you are selling on the farm that’s been in your family for three generations. Or maybe you are a brand new farmer and bring your kids to the market with you.

Perhaps you paint lovely pictures because your grandma took you on walks on her farm, and you are inspired by nature. Those are stories that allow people to get to know you. They help build loyal customers who tell other potential customers. Of course people get to taste your wonderful food or see the things you’ve created, too.

I believe firmly that a business plan is a must-do for anybody who wants to start a small business. But selling at a Farmers Market is a great place to start. As your market business grows, so does the opportunity to take it to the next level. Read more about Small Business: Is Your Farmers Market a Good Place to Start?

  • Small TownsCommunity Food

Conservation Stewardship Program Now Accepting Applications

On May 1, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced farmers and ranchers can now apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). It rewards producers for conservation practices on their working farm or ranchland. When Congress finalized this year’s funding bill, they restored money they accidently cut off in the bill passed last October.

The new legislation removed the remaining obstacles to enroll in CSP this year. It was a welcome move by Congress to address this oversight. Farmers and ranchers have been waiting to sign up. Each year there are twice as many, or more, applying than can receive contracts under available funding.

USDA will provide nearly $175 million in funding for enrollment of up to 12.6 million additional acres this year. That will bring a grand total of 62 million acres by year’s end.

If you are a farmer who has been waiting to get into the program, you should move forward now.

The deadline for applications is May 31, 2013. Even if you are in the midst of planting, make time to visit your local NRCS office. Start the application process right away.

CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs at NRCS. It has enrolled nearly 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating 50 million acres of farm and ranch land under five-year CSP conservation contracts worth $3.5 billion.

Previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers. But they’ve also brought disappointment and frustration. That’s why I encourage farmers and ranchers to call the Center for Rural Affairs Farm Bill Helpline. We’ll answer your questions about the application process. And you can share your experiences, both positive and negative.

You can reach the Farm Bill Helpline at 402.687.2100. Ask for Traci Bruckner. Or send a message online. Other resources that may help you include USDA’s CSP website and the USDA Service Center locator.

I'm here to help you! Read more about Conservation Stewardship Program Now Accepting Applications

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food

Sodsaver Bill Introduced in Senate

Last week, Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Amy Klobuchar lead a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation that would modify crop insurance premium subsidies for insured crops grown on native sod converted to cropland.

The Senate Sodsaver bill prohibits federal commodity payments on newly broken native sod, and it reduces the federal subsidy for crop and revenue insurance by fifty percent on native grass and prairie lands. It also requires that newly broken sod be isolated from other crop acres when calculating insurable yields, and operators would be required to take a percentage of the county average yield for any newly broken native sod until they are able to show a multi-year yield history.

The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Mike Johanns (R-NE). And according to the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation could save taxpayers $200 million over 10 years, encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife use as a habitat, and help level the playing field for producers who need access to grazing land.

The Center for Rural Affairs applauds Senators Thune, Johanns, Bennet, Klobuchar, Brown and Harkin for introducing this crucial, common-sense legislation to preserve grazing land, protect hunting opportunities and conserve vital soil resources. Last year’s Senate Farm Bill included a nationwide “Sodsaver” provision and we urge the Senate Agriculture Committee to include this legislation in the Farm Bill that they will begin writing and debating in coming weeks.
  Read more about Sodsaver Bill Introduced in Senate

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Perfect Turning Machine Turns Out Wonderfully

Kathy and Sonny Porter have been involved in the Perfect Turning Machine business for 15 years. Sonny used his hands-on know-how to develop his own components. They are used in land surveying instruments, firearms, and aerospace, along with manufacturing items for other businesses.

Sonny began his business journey in Greeley, Colorado, and then moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Several years ago he purchased a building and moved his machine shop to Kimball, Nebraska.

In 2011, Sonny had the opportunity to purchase the rights to the Borzit System, a small ground-boring machine used by landscaping companies putting in underground sprinklers. It can also be used to drill shallow water wells, etc.

Perfect Turning had been manufacturing the components before buying the rights to the machine and manufacturing it. Kathy learned about REAP and was directed to our Panhandle office. She got in touch with me to see if REAP could help secure funding to purchase the Borzit System.

I met with Sonny and Kathy, and we put together a business plan. The Porters used that to complete their loan application. REAP financing enabled Sonny and Kathy to purchase the system from Colorado and move it to their operation in Kimball.

Borzit System sales have seen some growth, but Sonny says the firearms component manufacturing has grown substantially. He predicts this growth will triple in 2013. The Borzit Product and the firearm components are shipped all over the United States.

The manufacturing business uses services and products of several local Kimball businesses. Besides Sonny and Kathy, Perfect Turning has two other full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Last year Sonny purchased an additional CNC lathe machine and has another one on order. Plans for more expansion are underway. Both Kathy and Sonny attribute help from REAP as instrumental in growing their business!

Perfect Turning Machine Shop
Kathy & Sonny Porter
Kimball, NE Read more about Perfect Turning Machine Turns Out Wonderfully

  • Small Business

Rural Monitor: Be Un-apologetically Rural

I was catching up on the great content from DailyYonder.com and I came across an interesting item in their Thursday Roundup from earlier this month. It was a quick note about the seemingly low opinion of rural America held by Adam Orth, the former director of Microsoft's games division. It came out during a Twitter exchange you can read about in detail here.

In short, the exchange was about the concern some have surrounding a product that may require an always on broadband connection. This can be a difficult to accomplish in rural places, and this was pointed out. At the mention of the small cities of Blacksburg, Virginia, and Janesville, Wisconsin, Orth wrote, "Why on earth would I live there?"

Orth's implied anti-rural and small town America attitude is a problem. You can witness the attitude other places too, such as in the ways small town life is depicted in film and television. In a more meaningful way, rural communities experience this via education legislation that favors the needs of urban schools over rural. The larger problem, however, is that this implied anti-rural attitude often exists most deeply within those residing in rural America.

Visiting small towns often invokes a series of apologies. "Sorry, we don't have _________." "We only have __________." Rural Americans need to be un-apologetically rural.

Let’s stop apologizing for what we lack and start bragging about what we have. Rural people’s ingenuity and tinkering ability mean we can make and fix just about anything. Urban, suburban, or rural: no matter. We’re proud of our unique contribution. Read more about Rural Monitor: Be Un-apologetically Rural


Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Introduced in Congress

The Center for Rural Affairs applauds the reintroduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. This cross-cutting initiative will help the next generation of farmers and ranchers enter agriculture and take advantage of emerging markets. Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Tim Walz (D-MN), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) reintroduced the act in the House of Representatives. Tom Harkin (D-IA) took the lead in the Senate.

We’re delighted to see these members of Congress acknowledge the need for creativity in the Farm Bill to address beginning farmer and rancher issues. With this bill and the farm bill debate this year, we are going to invest in creating a new generation of farmers and ranchers. We commend Rep Fortenberry, Sen Harkin and the other sponsors.

Their legislation is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in the future of rural America. It addresses key obstacles that often prevent beginning farmers and ranchers from getting their operation started.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act contains multiple crucial provisions, including:

  • Reauthorizing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a beginning farmer and rancher training and support initiative. It would provide $20 million in annual mandatory funding through 2018 to help meet growing demand for the program, and include a new priority on agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training programs for military veterans, as well as food safety training.
  • Devoting $20 million in annual funding for the Value Added Producer Grants Program. It will retain the priority for projects benefiting beginning farmers and ranchers as well as a set-aside of program funding for these projects.
  • Creating savings and enhancing lending provisions that help beginning farmers and ranchers access credit and establish a pattern of savings.
  • Providing conservation incentives to assist beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to establish conservation practices and sustainable systems on their farms and ranches.

Creating a new generation of family farmers and ranchers is a long row to hoe, but there are proven strategies that create real opportunities for beginners. And the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act was written to invest in those strategies and help new farmers and ranchers overcome barriers and take advantage of emerging markets.

The bill is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in rural America’s future through training, mentoring, business planning and other services for farm and ranch startups. It will also fund the highly effective Value Added Producer Grants program with emphasis on projects benefiting new farmers and ranchers. Read more about Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act Introduced in Congress


Golden Opportunity on Wind Energy in Nebraska Unicameral

April is the windiest month on the calendar, caused by the change of seasons. And the winds of April are a good symbol of the growing support for wind energy in the Unicameral and across Nebraska.

LB 402, legislation written to help overcome years of missed opportunity by removing barriers to wind energy development, came to the floor for opening round of debate on April 25. The bill would provide incentives to develop Nebraska’s considerable wind resources in the right way - a way that enables rural Nebraskans to share in the wealth and small business opportunities that development creates.

While all this spring snow makes it feel like we’re still waiting for that change of seasons, our long wait for a change in the way we produce and consume electricity may be coming to an end.

LB 402 builds off of the Community Based Energy Development (C-BED) program Governor Heinemann signed into law in 2007. The bill make it easier to qualify under the C-BED program, boosting participation and making it easier to bring investment into rural communities by encouraging the use of Nebraska materials when developing a new project, and encouraging developers to hire Nebraska citizens to do the work.

Amendments to LB 402 would also encourage wind developers to invest in Nebraskans themselves through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. These plans provide an ownership stake in the projects the employees help create. On average, participants receive 5% to 12% more in wages and have almost three times the retirement assets as do workers in comparable companies, keeping money from local projects here in Nebraska.

By supporting local investment and giving local workers a share in the profit, we can have the best of both worlds: clean, affordable energy and communities that are stronger because of it.

Iowa and South Dakota use wind to generate over 23% of electricity. In Kansas and Colorado, over 11% of energy is generated using wind resources. In Wyoming this number is close to 9%. A total of 14 states, the majority of which have wind resources inferior to ours, generate at least 5% of their electricity using wind power. Nebraska has yet to hit the 4% mark.

Their rural communities have grown. Their schools have improved. Their property taxes have decreased. So have electric rates. All while watching community wealth dramatically improve. That’s because state and local governments throughout the Upper Midwest and Great Plains have enacted policies that level the playing field, remove tax barriers to wind energy development, and create an environment that encourages energy independence.

We urge prompt action on LB 402. Read more about Golden Opportunity on Wind Energy in Nebraska Unicameral

  • Clean Energy
Blog (deprecated)

Women Entrepreneurs Conference Abuzz with Networking

What do you get when you have an event targeting entrepreneurial women? Lots of sharing of ideas, inspiration, and information! That’s what took place at the Women Entrepreneurs Conference held at the YWCA of Grand Island on March 20, 2013.

Marketing tips and advice came from Ann Martin of idea bank marketing in Hastings. Ann shared great information about customer service. You know how important first impressions are, right? Think of the voice that answers the phone at your business. Then carry that enthusiasm and service to your online and social media marketing.

Karen Linder, Linspiration, Inc., shared her wisdom on Ladies Who Launch. Karen delved into the characteristics of successful women entrepreneurs, using examples from her book, “The Women of Berkshire Hathaway.” You could purchase the book for future inspiration and encouragement – and a great read!

We also addressed the Affordable Care Act. Sean McGuire presented straightforward information about specifics business owners will need to know as the law moves forward. Find out more at healthreformexplained.com. (See the all the Center's reports on the Affordable Care Act here, including one on What It Means for Small Business.) 

Odee Ingersoll represented the Nebraska Business Development Center. He talked about planning for business succession. Keeping rural businesses prospering is a key to building healthy rural communities. Are you preparing for your businesses’ succession/transition phase?

One of the best steps to take when you start a business is talking to those who have “been there, done that.” Three panel members talked about their career progressions. Panel members were: Alison Martin, Two Paw Pets, Inc. and The Tail Waggin, Grand Island; Margaret Kring, My Fair Lady’s Fashions, Holdrege; and Tonja Broadwell, Kelly Supply/KDSI, Grand Island. They answered questions from the audience and willingly shared from their experiences.

New information, support and encouragement, and networking throughout the day = a great conference. We’re planning a repeat next year, so stay tuned!

Thanks to the YWCA of Grand Island and the Small Business Administration Nebraska District Office for partnering with the REAP Women’s Business Center to host this event. Read more about Women Entrepreneurs Conference Abuzz with Networking

  • Small Business


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