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 . 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

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 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

Expanding Medicaid Makes Sense for Nebraska

By Dr. Amanda McKinney, MD, Beatrice Community Hospital

I support the new Medicaid initiative in Nebraska under the Affordable Care Act. At a minimum, 78,000 uninsured adult Nebraskans would obtain health insurance coverage. Up to 108,000 would be eligible for the benefit. This would cover nearly half of uninsured adults in Nebraska.

There are multiple benefits to expanding Medicaid in Nebraska, but I will focus on an economic one. It is estimated that during 2014-2019, $1.06 billion will be provided in uncompensated care. The way this is handled now is to shift costs for uncompensated care to individuals and businesses that are participating in private insurance plans. Many have called this a “hidden tax.” By expanding Medicaid, uncompensated care would be reduced by $659 million.

In our hospital alone, for fiscal year 2011, we provided $1,956,485 in uncompensated care. This is not sustainable for any small hospital in the long-term without continuing to raise the rates for services that are provided. Uncompensated care in this country is one of the primary drivers of rising, exorbitant health care costs.

By providing coverage for uninsured individuals, Nebraska’s taxpayers would see significant savings as patients shift from uncompensated, expensive emergency room visits to outpatient, coordinated medical facilities. As many as 35,000 emergency room visits could be prevented each year.

Lastly, for every Nebraska tax dollar spent for this expansion, the federal government will return $35 - an economic win-win. The only reason not to expand Medicaid is a political one, which, in my mind, is not valid.

Amanda McKinney, MD, is a physician at the Women's Health Center of Beatrice. Read more about Expanding Medicaid Makes Sense for Nebraska

Weekly column

New Medicaid Initiative Eligible Households by Rural Legislative District

The Nebraska Legislature is currently considering LB 577, a proposal to implement the new Medicaid initiative in the Affordable Care Act. LB 577 would provide Medicaid eligibility to those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Included in the new Medicaid initiative would be working adults with incomes at or below the income level. Also included would be childless adults at or below the income level. Read more about New Medicaid Initiative Eligible Households by Rural Legislative District

Survey Gauges Interest in Local Food

Nebraskans spend $4.4 billion annually on food with 90 percent of that money leaving the state. A new Center for Rural Affairs report finds an opportunity to turn that around.

In a joint project with the University of Nebraska and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, we asked consumers, producers, institutions and grocery stores about their experiences with locally produced food and their views on regional food systems. Project funding came from USDA's Federal State Marketing Improvement Program. 

Results were clear. The positive attitude toward local foods and a growing national emphasis on food security, health and environment make it possible to bring a regional food system together to include farming and community gardening, processing, storage, distribution and transportation, and food access.

The report, Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions, demonstrates that Nebraska consumers are overwhelmingly interested in purchasing food directly from local producers. But a large majority believe the supply of producers selling food directly is difficult to find.

Consumers also showed a willingness to pay slightly more for locally grown food. But that willingness has a limit. Beyond a 10 percent price increase willingness to pay decreases.

The demand for locally grown food exists among consumers. But the market, or at least the perception of the market, may be lacking. Farmers markets and grocery stores are the most common places to purchase locally produced foods. And consumers want increased grocery store and restaurant options to purchase locally produced foods.

A number of consumers commented on the hours and location inconvenience of farmers markets, which may mean more business training is needed for those operating farmers markets.

Producers acknowledge they face challenges in building a regional food system. Producing sufficient volume of products and transportation were the most common challenges cited. But a large majority of producers are interested in expanding their local food production capacity. A majority are interested in participating in a regional food system.

Our survey data paints a clear picture that the prevailing attitudes among consumers, producers and institutions toward the growth of local and regional food systems are overwhelmingly positive. And while real challenges exist, there is also real opportunity and a desire among all parties to meet those challenges.

Download the Regional Food Systems report. Read more about Survey Gauges Interest in Local Food

  • Small TownsCommunity Food
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Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions

Nebraskans spend $4.4 billion annually on food, and 90 percent of that money leaves the state. We have an opprtunity - and a need- to create comprehensive regional food systems in Nebraska that include farming and community gardening, processing, storage, distribution and transportation, and food access. The opportunity comes from positive attitude toward local foods and the growing national emphasis placed on food security, health and the environment. Read more about Regional Food Systems in Nebraska: Views of Consumers, Producers and Institutions

Laws, Sausages and the Sequester

There are two things no one should ever witness being made... laws and sausages. As the clock winds down on yet another fiscal deadline in Congress,  many Americans are trying to determine how they will be impacted by the mandatory budgetary reductions that will occur on March 1st, unless Congress and the White House can strike another deal.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) recently put forward a fiscal package that contains several provisions of particular note to rural America. The farm bill extension approved by Congress in the fiscal cliff deal passed on New Year’s Day left many vital rural programs without any funding for 2013. Investments in rural small business development, beginning farmers and ranchers, value-added ventures, organic farmers, and renewable energy programs were all left on the cutting room floor, along with many others.

The farm bill provisions in the fiscal package recently introduced in the Senate would fix this funding mess and establish common-sense priorities for federal investment in rural America’s future. Congress must address the loss of these crucial rural investments in the disastrous farm bill extension that was included in the fiscal cliff legislation. Senator Stabenow and Senator Reid have taken an important first step in ensuring that happens.

Moreover, Congress also should address the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was mistakenly cut in their continuing budget resolution last fall and will stand idle for 2013 if Congress fails to correct their mistake. Read more about Laws, Sausages and the Sequester

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Protect our Prairies

Prairie and native grasslands are disappearing rapidly, taking soil and habitat as well as hunting, ranching and other economic opportunities with them. Congress should ensure that federal farm and crop insurance subsidies don’t exacerbate the loss of these vital natural resources.

Fortunately, Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD), Tim Walz (D-MN) and six bipartisan co-sponsors recently introduced legislation that creates a nationwide “sodsaver” law that would slash subsidies that contribute to the destruction of native grassland and prairie.

The Protect Our Prairies Act would prohibit federal payments and reduce crop insurance premium subsidies by fifty percent on newly broken native sod. The Act also closes loopholes by requiring 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. These two provisions are crucial to removing the federally subsidized incentive to bust up native grassland.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Protect Our Prairies will save nearly $200 million over the next 10 years, tax dollars that will otherwise be spent to destroy remaining prairies and grasslands. Senator John Thune (R-SD) secured the same provision in the Senate Farm Bill last year, and it is expected to remain in the Senate bill this year. If your Representative is a co-sponsor, thank them, if not, call them and urge them to sign up. Read more about Protect our Prairies

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Reclaiming our Pioneer Heritage

By Paul Hosford, Albion, Nebraska (distributed with permission from the Omaha World Herald)
By reclaiming the best of our pioneer heritage, by applying past lessons to the future, we can, like the original pioneers, make rural areas prosper. These ideas are as applicable now as when I first wrote them in 2010 (Omaha World Herald, Midlands Voices: Re-pioneering important to revitalizing rural areas, February 1, 2010)… perhaps even more so.

The successful pioneers were courageous. They persevered. They made sacrifices to realize their dreams.  The pioneers were builders, innovators and entrepreneurs. They built farmsteads and dry-goods stores, mills, roads and bridges.  They used the latest technology everywhere they could.

The pioneers cared about community. They created organizations that brought people together to quilt and to husk, to sing and to pray. The pioneers weren’t afraid of diversity — people from vastly different places, with vastly different customs and languages, worked together to settle the Plains.

The pioneers didn’t just farm and raise livestock — they were at the same time carpenters, teachers, politicians and planners.  The pioneers were visionaries. They could see in their hearts what the future could be and understood that through hard work and focus, they could achieve their visions. The pioneers were optimists — they didn’t let the challenges of rural life dissuade them.

Imagine if more people in rural areas could once again be as inspired by a vision of what the future holds, as reluctant to let challenges stop them, as open to new ideas, as willing to do what has to be done as their predecessors were. Read more about Reclaiming our Pioneer Heritage

  • Small TownsCommunity Development
Weekly column


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