Putting the Public Back in Public Power

This winter the energy team at the Center for Rural Affairs zigzagged across Nebraska. Renewable energy was on our minds. We sat down with renewable energy advocates and elected board members of the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD). The board members represented most of our state.

Rural people who are concerned with the source of their power and Nebraska’s energy future came to the meetings to express their opinions. They discussed the benefits and road blocks of developing renewable energy in Nebraska.

Public power district employees also attended. They purchase power directly from NPPD, so they shared their concerns and views on energy procurement.

Rural advocates pressed board members to support increased wind and solar energy projects in Nebraska. They cited the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy for rural areas of the state.

NPPD had released an Integrated Resource Plan identifying their preferred mix for future generation options. They also held a series of public meetings to gather input on the study.

Nebraskans can have an impact on NPPD’s decisions on the source of rural Nebraska’s power!

Can you have impact in your state? We’d like to know how. Contact Johnathan Hladik, johnathanh@cfra.org or 402.687.2100 to tell us about your experiences. Read more about Putting the Public Back in Public Power

  • Clean Energy

Response to Reader Critique of Wind Energy Work

Several of you have criticized our work on wind energy. Specifically, our support for utility-scale wind and transmission lines to bring energy from rural areas to urban demand centers. Critics contend that puts us at odds with community wind energy. We view it differently. Here’s why.

A Clean Energy Future
Climate change, energy security, and economic drivers demand we shift our electricity system to renewable resources. Scenarios of getting 80 percent of our electricity from renewables were once fanciful. Now they seem plausible.

Distributed, home-based, and community-based generation will help achieve the goal. But without utility-scale developments, we’ll fall short.

Transmission Bottlenecks
Our aging transmission system delivered power from large coal and nuclear generators directly to demand centers. Lines were never built in sufficient quantities throughout rural areas – home to our best wind resources.

Transmission bottlenecks are now a barrier for both community-based and utility-scale wind developments. No matter who owns the wind turbines, we must upgrade transmission to advance renewable development.

Capital Costs
Wind power is incredibly capital intensive. The capital needed is considerably greater than for family farming, even with today’s high land prices. The cost of a commercial-scale wind turbine ranges from $1.2 million to $2.6 million per megawatt of capacity. That puts ownership out of reach for most rural people. To the extent local capital exists, only the most well off can invest.

Investing in a wind project doesn’t help a beginning farmer get started. It won’t add profitability to a struggling family farm. But rental payments for hosting a utility-scale investor-owned project could. Strategies other than local ownership may create the most opportunity for people who are not already wealthy.

Creating Opportunity
Communities benefit from renewable energy in lots of ways. One is through community ownership opportunities. Payments to landowners who host turbines, increased property tax collections, and good jobs in wind turbine maintenance are others.

Solar costs are dropping too. Residential and farm-based use of solar energy may increase.

Here in Nebraska we’re encouraging employee ownership in wind developments. Innovative legislation would give employees of modest means a way to earn an ownership stake in a wind farm.

We are advocating new models for transmission ownership too. One proposal includes long-term payments for landowners based on a share of revenue generated by the line. Another proposal would provide local investment and ownership opportunities. These models have precedent in Canada and Germany.

In Summary
Advocating against new transmission would bring wind development to a near halt. Opportunity that could be captured for a struggling rural community might shift to offshore projects instead. And significant ground would be lost in slowing climate change.

Critics have suggested our support for utility-scale wind energy is driven by favoritism for big developers. It is not. As with all issues, we think carefully about how to maximize opportunity for communities and for moderate-income workers while balancing environmental considerations.

We’re working hard to engage rural people and partner organizations in a conversation about wind energy and transmission development. Our focus is doing it in a way that respects legitimate landowner concerns, maximizes opportunity, and protects our natural resources.

At the Center we champion renewable energy without demanding it all be done in a certain way. We criticize wind energy policies that are bad for rural areas. And we encourage use of wind energy in general. The wind blows hard out here. Let’s take advantage of it every way we can. Read more about Response to Reader Critique of Wind Energy Work

  • Clean Energy

Responsible Approach Needed for Subsidized Crop Insurance

Federally subsidized crop insurance has become the primary farm program. It needs some changes to be good for family farms and conservation. It must also be fiscally responsible to leave room in the federal budget for other farm and small-town priorities.

Federal crop insurance’s magnitude was underscored by a Farm Credit Services study. It showed that $4.5 billion in 2012 crop insurance indemnities to farmers in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming saved about 21,000 jobs. Those payments kept farm income at the second highest level ever in spite of record drought.

Crop insurance receives multiple federal subsidies: 1) In good years, as well as bad, the government pays 62 percent of farmers’ crop insurance premiums, 2) The feds pay over a billion dollars of insurance companies’ administrative costs, and 3) In years of big crop failures, the government reimburses insurance companies for their losses. The total cost last year was about $16 billion.

With its emergence as the primary farm program, some key crop insurance issues need attention.

The primary farm subsidy is now uncapped. If one corporation farmed every acre in America, the government would pay 62 percent of its crop insurance premiums on every acre. According to the Government Accountability Office, a $40,000 cap on those subsidies would have saved $1 billion in 2011. Uncapped premium subsidies help mega farms bid land away from smaller and beginning farmers. They contribute to deficits. And, like the big bank bailout, they enable the rich and powerful to socialize risk while privatizing profit.

There are no conservation requirements. Recipients of insurance premium subsidies, unlike other farm payments, are not required to practice soil conservation. High prices are now signaling farmers to maximize production. With no conservation requirement, that production will in some cases come at the expense of the soil. Furthermore, federal crop insurance has placed taxpayers in the position of bearing the risk for irresponsible individuals out to make a quick buck by tearing out fragile grasslands.

Subsidies increase as farm prices rise, driving up federal spending. It costs the government more to insure $7 corn than $4 corn. Direct farm payments were criticized for paying farmers as much in good years as bad. But federal crop insurance goes further. Premium subsidies are bigger in years when prices are higher – generally years of lesser need. Even before the drought, the cost of premium subsidies had quadrupled over 10 years to $7 billion, more than any other farm policy.

Record subsidies at a time of high prices are adding fuel to land price inflation. They are also squeezing other priorities out of the budget. The farm bill extension continued unlimited mega farm premium subsidies – even to those selling record crops at record prices. But to meet budget targets, new conservation enrollments were blocked. Beginning farmer and rural small business development programs were defunded.

Farmers who count on traditional farm programs to protect against long periods of low prices should also be concerned about focusing most spending on crop insurance. It protects only against price declines within a crop year, not against extended periods of low prices. Prices will inevitably fall. And when they do, farmers will be able to insure their crops only at the lower price.

It’s time to develop a responsible approach to subsidized crop insurance. Premium subsidies should be capped at reasonable levels. Recipients should be required to practice conservation and should not be subsidized to tear up grasslands. It’s also fair to ask whether premium subsidies should always increase in response to rising crop prices – particularly in years of normal yields.

Only with a fiscally responsible crop insurance program can we afford programs that protect farmers in the inevitable low price years. And only then can we afford to invest in protecting the land and establishing a new generation of farms and businesses to keep our small towns and countryside strong. Read more about Responsible Approach Needed for Subsidized Crop Insurance

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill

Wind Energy Leading the Way in 2013

The U.S. has seen strong growth in the wind energy industry, and 2012 was a record year for the amount of installed capacity. Over 13,000 megawatts of capacity was installed last year according to the American Wind Energy Association, which brings the total capacity to 60,007 megawatts nationwide.

In 2013 so far, wind energy has made up over 60% of all new generating capacity installed in the United States according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s update. During January and February of 2013, wind energy beat out all other generating sources for new projects, adding six new projects in those two months.

The addition of these projects brings the total amount of installed wind capacity in the United States to 60.1 gigawatts, making it over 5% of our electric generation. According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest numbers, this is a sizable bump for the country--in 2012, wind power constituted only about 3.5% of U.S. electricity.

Most of this is due in part to states taking the lead on including more wind energy in the mix, attracting developers and economic opportunity to their states. In 2011, only five states hit at least 10% in their wind energy mix. The newest numbers for 2013 show that the number has now risen to nine states. The nine states on the list not only gain the benefit of clean and renewable energy to power their states, but they also see new jobs and revenue spring up from this prospering industry. Read more about Wind Energy Leading the Way in 2013

  • Clean Energy
Weekly column

Farmer Fly-In Offers Congressional Leaders Input on Farm Bill

Farmers and rural leaders headed to Washington, DC in March to lobby on the Farm Bill. Congress was finalizing its spending bills, so it was a good time get their ear.

William Powers, a farmer and executive director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, urged legislators to restore funding in critical programs that invest in beginning farmers and ranchers.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is an example. It helped the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society, the Center, and other partners train and mentor beginning farmers so they could launch into agriculture.

We also urged support for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program. It helped organizations across the country provide loans and technical assistance to small town, main street businesses.
Another big issue was the Conservation Stewardship Program. It suffered cuts in the short-term funding bill last year. By fixing that, USDA could move forward with enrollment for 2013.

Greg Brokaw, a farmer/rancher from Ashley, ND, shared his concerns with his new Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Greg has seen significant conversion of native grassland to cropland, noting that subsidized crop insurance is the guiding force. Greg supports including a Sodsaver provision in a new five-year farm bill.

A recent study published by South Dakota State University drives home this very point. Between 2006 and 2011, North and South Dakota led all states in converting grassland to cropland in less suitable areas for producing corn. The report suggests federal crop insurance encouraged that expansion because it helps manage the financial risk of corn crops in less suitable climates.

Greg is also concerned with the impact unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies are having on rural communities. He believes the policy is abused and should be targeted to small and mid-size family farmers and ranchers.

Robert Bernt, a farmer from Spaulding, NE, raised his support for the Value Added Producer Grant Program. While it has a small amount of money this year, we need a five-year farm bill to fund the program long term. It helped Robert establish his organic, grassfed dairy, and he sells products locally across Nebraska and in parts of Iowa.

At the end of the day, our meetings were about moving Congress in the direction of passing a five-year farm bill that prioritizes what they heard from the farmers. Invest in beginning farmers and ranchers, small town businesses, and conservation of the land and water. Read more about Farmer Fly-In Offers Congressional Leaders Input on Farm Bill

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill

New Era for Local Grocery Store

When the grocery store in Elwood, Nebraska, closed in January 2012, Sharlette Schwenninger and LeahAnn Brell went into action.

Schwenninger and Brell are Village Board members and leaders on the Chamber of Commerce in Elwood, a rural town of 707 people in south-central Nebraska. Determined to bring groceries back to Elwood, they scheduled a community meeting and distributed a community interest survey door to door.

Within a month, over 100 community members attended the meeting to learn the survey results and support efforts to open a new grocery store. At the close of the meeting, 10 volunteers formed a steering committee to move the project forward.

The committee members’ experience ranged from business management to accounting to construction. “It was an amazing group of people to work with,” said Schwenninger. The steering committee met weekly, with subcommittees for finance, facilities, surveys, marketing, and incorporation – working long hours and reporting back.

After exploring several business models, the steering committee decided to incorporate as a cooperative. The cooperative structure allowed community members to have a stake in their own market. “Elwood is only 14 miles from Lexington, and it’s easy for many people to pick up groceries on their way home from work,” explained Schwenninger. “We wanted to give people a good reason to buy in town.”

Over the summer of 2012, organizers began a heavily advertised membership drive. They sold $500 shares to community members, who would own the grocery store collectively. Once the membership drive reached its “go” threshold (75 percent of the budget secured), the cooperative purchased the old grocery store building and began remodeling. Community volunteers helped throughout the process, from demolition to stocking shelves.

Thirteen months after the closing of Elwood’s grocery store, the Elwood Hometown Cooperative Market opened for business in February 2013. So far, the community response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the store is expanding its services and hours. “We’re at or ahead of our projections, and that’s very gratifying,” said Schwenninger.

“This is a great example of doing a co-op right,” said Jim Crandall, Outreach Program Coordinator for the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center, who helped guide the cooperative’s formation. “They planned that whole business on paper first. They did their research and asked lots of questions, and they weren’t afraid of the answers they got. If there were problems, they mitigated them and moved on.”

The Elwood Hometown Cooperative Market has had its share of difficulties, including leaky roofs, management troubles, and equipment problems, but it has adapted quickly and is now poised for long-term success.

Moving forward, the Elwood community itself will sustain the store. “It’s a self-fulfilling thing,” said Crandall. Cooperative members form the backbone of the business, and they benefit from it most.

In Elwood, a rural community worked together to save their grocery store. With the support and commitment of a whole town behind it, the Elwood Hometown Cooperative Market has a bright future in a vibrant, engaged rural community. Read more about New Era for Local Grocery Store

  • Small TownsCommunity Food

Corporate Farming Notes: COOL and Kansas Anti-Corporate Farming Law

Things are looking up for Country of Origin Labeling. COOL requires retailers to provide consumers information about the country where fruits, vegetables, fish, shellfish, and meats originate. Last June, the World Trade Organization found that US rules for meat discriminate against Canadian and Mexican imports. They issued a May 23 deadline to comply with the ruling.

Fortunately, on March 8, USDA issued a strong proposed rule. It would prohibit co-mingling of muscle cuts, eliminate the vague “mixed origin” label, and require that all cuts of meat display information on the label about where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered.

The Center for Rural Affairs applauds USDA’s new COOL rule. The “born, raised, and slaughtered” standard is especially encouraging. We’ve worked for nearly two decades in support of this labeling. First to get the law passed as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. Next to see it implemented. And now it stands to become the foundation of country of origin meat labeling.

Of course the meat industry is scurrying for cover. Retaining the strength of the rule will require support from family farmers, ranchers, rural organizations, and other concerned citizens.

Comments to USDA on the rule must be received by April 11, 2013. You’ll find more information on submitting comments here. Or you can contact me directly – johnc@cfra.org or 402.687.2100.

On March 8, the Kansas Senate heard testimony on legislation that would allow out-of-state ownership of Kansas farms and ranches. It also removes county commissions’ authority to block development of corporate hog and dairy operations.

This is part of a legislative package intended to repeal Kansas’ anti-corporate farming law and clear the path for corporate hog and dairy operations. Other bills would make it even more difficult to bring nuisance suits against industrial livestock operations. They would weaken rules on where such operations can be built.

“Let’s not kid ourselves…,” said Mary Fund of the Kansas Rural Center in her testimony. “[This bill] is not about helping family farmers; it is not about jobs or rebuilding communities. If corporate agriculture and consolidation brought jobs and healthy communities, western Kansas would be a paradise today. This is more of the same, and the result has always been fewer farmers, declining rural communities, and shrinking economic opportunities.”

Hear, hear Mary… hear, hear. Read more about Corporate Farming Notes: COOL and Kansas Anti-Corporate Farming Law

  • Farm PolicyCorporate Farming

Farm Bill Progress Still Stalled in Washington

Even though the Farm Bill was extended by the fiscal cliff legislation that passed in January, Congress is still making crucial farm and rural policy choices. Spending decisions in the appropriations and budget processes strike at the heart of the matter… whether we cut Farm Bill spending in ways that do the least damage or perhaps even help rural America, or slash investments in the future of rural people and rural places.
Investments in rural development, beginning farmers and ranchers, and conservation of soil and water hold great hope for rural cities and small towns. Unfortunately, Congress is under-investing in these vital initiatives, and over-subsidizing crop insurance premiums for mega-farms.
The fiscal cliff legislation and the sequester cut deeply into investments in rural America’s future while continuing to provide unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to the nation’s largest farms. If one corporation farmed your entire state, the federal government would pay sixty percent of its crop insurance premiums on every acre, every year, regardless of price, production or profitability.
Tight budgets make it more important than ever to change Farm Bill spending priorities. I have yet to meet the person who believes it is more important to provide unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to mega-farms than it is to invest in the future of our rural economy through beginning farmer and rancher programs and rural small business development as well as conservation programs to keep land and water healthy for future generations.
  Read more about Farm Bill Progress Still Stalled in Washington

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Spring and Conservation: Both in Season Now

Farmers and ranchers have the opportunity to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which rewards producers for conservation practices on working lands, thanks to passage of legislation that replaces funding for the 2013 CSP that was accidently cut off in the government spending bill that passed last October.

USDA can now proceed with enrolling just over 11 million acres of farm and ranch land in the program this year, bringing the program to a grand total of 62 million acres by year’s end.

The Center for Rural Affairs encourages potential applicants to move forward now, before planting season is underway and many become too busy in the field to get away. While CSP is a continuous signup program and producers can apply throughout the year, USDA applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year. Once the cut-off date is past, producers may continue to apply for the program, but will not be considered for entry until the following spring, in this case spring 2014.

While the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has yet to decide on an application deadline, there is speculation it will be in May. That short timeline should provide further motivation for farmers and ranchers to visit their local NRCS office now and start the application (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb1046193.pdf) process right away.

Producers can call (402) 687-2100 and ask for the Farm Bill Helpline or email tracib@cfra.org to access assistance from the Center for Rural Affairs in applying to CSP. Read more about Spring and Conservation: Both in Season Now

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Conservation Stewardship Program Funding Fixed

The Center for Rural Affairs Farm Bill Helpline is ready to assist farmers and ranchers to take advantage of one of the nation's best conservation programs.

Farmers and ranchers will again be able to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP rewards producers for conservation practices on working lands. Funding for enrollments was accidentally cut off in the government spending bill passed last October. Congress recently passed legislation to fix that right before their Easter recess.

The legislation removes the remaining obstacles to CSP sign-up this year. It is a welcome move, as farmers and ranchers have been waiting to sign up. Each year more apply than can receive contracts, nearly twice as many.

USDA can now proceed with enrolling just over 11 million acres of farm and ranch land. This will bring the program to a grand total of 62 million acres by year’s end. The fix came in a bill to continue funding for the federal government for the next six months. We’ve pressed for this result since last October when the first government funding bill accidentally shut off CSP enrollment for 2013.

Potential applicants, move forward now, before planting season is underway and you get too busy in the field to get away. CSP is a continuous signup program, so producers can apply to enroll at any time of year. But USDA applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year. Once the cut-off date is past, producers can continue to apply, but you won't be considered for entry until the spring of the following year, in this case spring of 2014.

Previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers. But they have also brought disappointment and frustration. We welcome everyone to call the Farm Bill Helpline with questions about the application process and to share your experiences, both positive and negative.

USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has yet to decide on a deadline for farmer and rancher applications. Speculation says it will likely be in May. That short timeline should provide further motivation for farmers and ranchers to visit their local NRCS office now and start the application process right away.

CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs at NRCS, enrolling 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. Through our helpline, you will speak to someone who is knowledgeable about program rules to help you understand how to participate in the program.

Call 402.687.2100 and ask for the Farm Bill Helpline or send an email to tracib@cfra.org . You can also find the Farm Bill Helpline online here.

Potential applicants should also visit their NRCS local service center. Read more about Conservation Stewardship Program Funding Fixed

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food
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Women’s History Month: A Bright Future For Women-Owned Small Businesses

Today, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of new businesses in our economy.

In fact, an analysis by American Express suggests that the number of women-owned businesses has risen by 200,000 over the past year alone, which is equivalent to just under 550 new women-owned firms created each day.

Regardless of how you slice the data, we know that this trend is growing and that women are over-indexing in entrepreneurship.

As Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I travel all around the country meeting with small business owners and entrepreneurs. I see how their businesses are transforming their industries and rebuilding their communities following the economic downturn.

These are businesses like UEC Electronics in South Carolina. Rebecca Ufkes, an engineer and the company’s president, is laser focused on growing her successful electronics manufacturing business. She is supplying products to major manufacturers, such as Boeing, Cummins Engine Co, as well as the U.S. Marines and Air Force. And she is creating good American manufacturing jobs in the process.

UEC employs 194 workers, an increase of 49 percent since August 2011. And Rebecca is part of a growing American supply chain of innovative small businesses that is driving large multinational manufacturers to bring more production back to the U.S.

However, today, many women-owned entrepreneurs face what we call the “missing middle.”

For example, take my home state of Maine. According to the most recent census data, men owned 54 percent of businesses in Maine and women owned 26 percent of businesses in the state (the remaining were co-owned). However, when you look at the receipts of these businesses, women-owned businesses lagged behind, capturing only 7 percent of receipts, compared to 78 percent of receipts earned by men-owned firms. There is a similar trend occurring in states across the country.

Clearly, women-owned firms are growing greater in numbers, but challenges persist in scaling their operations and garnering market share.

At the SBA, we have the proven tools needed to bridge that missing middle. And to ensure that all entrepreneurs have the tools they need to grow their businesses, reach new markets and realize their full potential.

Access to Capital
According to the Urban Institute, SBA loans are 3 to 5 times more likely to go to women and minority owned businesses than conventional loans. And since President Obama took office, SBA has supported more than $12 billion in lending through more than 35,000 SBA loans to women-owned businesses.

At the SBA, one of our priorities is making sure that more qualified women-owned, veteran-owned and minority-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply chain opportunities. That’s why we put into place the Women's Contracting Rule, which means that for the first time federal agencies can set aside contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses in over 300 industries where women are underrepresented. Congress gave SBA this authority in 2000, but it was never implemented. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have made it a priority—and have gotten it done. And recently we expanded the limits to ensure that women-owned businesses are eligible for larger government contracts.

Our Office of Women’s Business Ownership oversees a national network of 106 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that support women who want to start or grow their business.  We’re connecting with more women every day and, in FY 2012 alone, we counseled and trained more than 136,000 women entrepreneurs.

This month, as part of Women’s History Month, we’re excited to announce another new counseling resource called “Encore Entrepreneurship for Women: An Introduction to Starting Your Own Business.” It is designed specifically for female “encore entrepreneurs,” who are over the age of 50 and ready to start a business as the next chapter of their careers.

We are committed to helping women entrepreneurs because we know how much potential they have to contribute to America’s economic growth. To learn more about how SBA can help your business, visit www.sba.gov.

Contributed by: Karen Mills, Admistrator of the Small Business Administration Read more about Women’s History Month: A Bright Future For Women-Owned Small Businesses

  • Small Business
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Expanding Health Care Coverage is a Smart Investment

Hard-working Montana families need the security of quality health care. A bill in the legislature, HB 458, could help 69,000 Montanans gain that security. These people are your neighbors - farmers and ranchers, small business owners, retirees, and entrepreneurs that don’t get health insurance from their employers.

HB 458 would expand Montana’s Medicaid program, and create an estimated 12,000 to 16,000 jobs over the next 8 years. Over $2 billion would return to Montana’s economy in that same time period as a result of increased economic activity in the health sector.

If you have an emergency, you want help nearby. The financial security of our rural hospitals and clinics depends on expanding health insurance to more Montanans. Over 25% of rural Montanans are uninsured, and the pressure of providing unpaidcare means more rural hospitals and clinics are in danger of closing.

Right now, Montana already pays hospitals for 30% of their unpaid patient care. In other words, we're already paying for the uninsured, so they might as well have the security and better health that comes with insurance.

To top it off, 100% of the cost is covered thru 2016 to expand Medicaid. This amount will gradually decrease permanently to 90%. Between the additional revenue from a stronger health sector and the savings Montana will see due to less unpaid care, HB 458 could actually save the state money.

Expanding health care coverage through HB 458 makes good sense and is a smartinvestment in Montana’s future. Read more about Expanding Health Care Coverage is a Smart Investment

  • Rural Health
Weekly column

This Young Woman Transformed a Building and Her Dreams

Mallory Christoffersen is the REAP Women’s Business Center Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012. Mallory displays the entrepreneurial spirit so crucial to women-owned businesses and the rural communities they call home.

The owner of Simply Unique Salon, Spa and Tanning in downtown Norfolk knew it would be a major undertaking to open her own business. Her experience at another salon gave her confidence that it was time to branch out on her own.

One of the first things Mallory did was to turn to her local SCORE Chapter. They helped in completing a business plan, making financial projections, and finding answers to the many questions tha face a first-time business owner.

Photo of Simply Unique Salon, Spa and Tanning

Mallory was honored by the award. “I had no idea I could turn my ideas into such a reality. I am thankful to have the opportunity to receive assistance from local organizations such as REAP.”

A REAP loan helped her finance the start-up. Hours of painting, decorating, and working with contractors transformed her new space into the design she felt would set the business apart. Mallory’s boyfriend and other family members pitched in to complete the remodel. The business opened in late spring, 2012.

Simply Unique Salon is a great asset for Norfolk's Downtown Business District. It's a great place with a nice, friendly atmosphere. Local residents have been supportive of the project.

The shop offers perms, color, and cuts - and massage, skin care needs, tanning and retail items. It's a real one-stop shop for health and beauty needs.

Mallory is the first to say advise that at times it was daunting. But once the business was open and customers started coming, it was rewarding to own and operate her own business. (The sign of a true entrepreneur.)

You can see before and after shots of the remodeling project here. And you'll find more photos of the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year here. Read more about This Young Woman Transformed a Building and Her Dreams

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There’s More to It than Wind

Rural America is privy to some of the juicy plots of land for wind power production. It’s well known throughout the energy sphere that sprawling, unencumbered land masses are best suited for wind collection. And, fortunately enough, most of those land masses sit in countryside communities.

But that’s old news. We’ve all heard about wind power potential. And interestingly enough, that’s not the only place where rural America fits into the equation for nationwide sustainability.

Naturally, the next place to look is solar energy. The sun beats down on rural communities harder than anywhere else, where foliage and shade can come at a serious premium. Not surprisingly, states with large rural backdrops, like New Mexico and Arizona are some of the largest producers of solar power. And they’re only getting better with the rampant development and waning costs of solar modules and arrays.

What’s more? Just look at where most of our country’s biofuel is coming from: corn. Of course, our reliance on corn for biofuel is a hotly debated topic, but the discussion is opening up research into alternate solutions for biofuel’s production in rural areas.

Programs like the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program are even tailored to give rural communities incentive beyond wind power. REAP helps communities finance anaerobic, geothermal and hydroelectric projects that are equally applicable to the landscape.

If you’re interested in hopping into the renewables scene, you’re in luck if you’re a country dweller. You’re already in a perfect position to get involved. Reach out to your local ordinances and see what grants are available, and start asking your neighbors about what they’ve done to stretch their renewable capacity beyond wind power. Opportunities are opening up for everyone from single households to large businesses. Here are a couple of good resources to get you started:

Best of luck, and here’s to a more sustainable rural America inspiring a more sustainable world.

Mia Henderson

Blogger at TexasElectricityProviders.com Read more about There’s More to It than Wind

  • Clean Energy
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Hot and Dry, Cold and Wet

In 2012, critically hot, dry weather hit the Midwest and Great Plains, while the East Coast endured floods, Hurricane Sandy and record New England snowfall. Climatologists described these specific weather events, for the first time, as part of a changing climate attributed to global warming.
I watched dry conditions unfold in Northeast Nebraska last year. The warm and dry winter and spring, resulted in no soil moisture at planting time. The hot and dry summer burned up most dry-land corn. High night-time temperatures damaged crops and killed feedlot cattle unable to cool off.
Irrigation barely kept up with crop demands. Heavy pumping caused groundwater levels to drop, leaving some livestock wells and rural households without water. Obviously, rural Americans will have to deal with global warming and the climate changes that are already impacting us.
Sadly, farm subsidies that discourage diversity and innovation will make climate change impacts worse. Reduced conservation incentives will make weather extremes more likely to cause both immediate and long-term damage to soil and water quality.
Farm policy must encourage changes in the ways farmers conserve their soil and water, and the crops they plant, and at the Center for Rural Affairs, we are looking for solutions to these challenges. Our soon to be released report, Banking on Carbon, seeks to encourage agriculture’s greatest tool to reduce atmospheric carbon, namely sequestration in the soil. It also describes other practices and public policy options that can increase farm and ranch resilience and decrease atmospheric carbon. Read more about Hot and Dry, Cold and Wet

  • Farm PolicyCorporate Farming
Weekly column


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