Water quality takes more than a cash stream

Appeared in the Des Moines Register on Thursday, July 12, 2018

With the latest round of debate on Iowa’s water quality problem, it’s clear there are no winners and losers, just too much water. Mother Nature has carved such a destructive path, as though she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry in anger. To honor those we lost to drowning accidents last month – Larry Cotlar, Cha Charles Lee, Richard Lewis Mart, Ikran Noor, Celeste Sandoval-Ramos, and Landyn Short – the debate must continue.

Our water quality problem is not just a funding issue, it’s a strategy, leadership, and administrative problem. And, it’s a climate change problem. Rather than pecking at each other over the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, it’s time to broaden the conversation and dream bigger. Because funding the Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust is just the beginning of getting serious about water in Iowa.

More than 20 years have passed since Midwestern states first convened to address growing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa has led in researching best management practices to conserve nutrients on-farm by means of work done largely through the Leopold Center at Iowa State. Iowa has lagged behind other states, though, in emphasizing robust local planning strategies to manage watersheds.

Good planning can answer questions while helping the state set a strategy for limited funds. What does it take to cut nutrients by 45 percent? Are some areas of the state leakier than others? Where do big projects make the most sense?

When Minnesota passed its buffer requirement in 2015, it also passed legislation to strengthen programs for watershed planning called One Watershed, One Plan. The program compiles local plans into a statewide strategy, including modernizing drainage districts. Coordinating and providing similar oversight to Iowa’s existing local watershed plans and expanding planning grants for new efforts would make a lot of sense.

Getting serious about climate change also offers huge opportunities for farmers through restoring carbon to the soil. Iowa could draft a climate adaptation plan, as 18 other states have done, that includes considerations for agriculture. The same practices that restore soil carbon can boost the soil’s natural ability to retain water. Such a plan could combine the important goals of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy with carbon sequestration targets in a holistic approach.

But, who is going to do this? Farmers and legislators have stepped up in some places, but have run short on funding. Trust has eroded with voters as elected officials continue to act like the only institutions that matter are privately owned. We need more people to step up and work in this space to coordinate projects into the landscape. As long as state funding continues to drop, nonprofits and public-private partnerships will continue to try fill the gaps.

Leadership is still necessary on water quality, and voters should remember that this fall. Funding the Trust is important, but is not the silver bullet for Iowa. We all have a role to play which needs to start with bigger and tougher conversations, especially with those vying for our votes, if we are going to make a difference. Read more about Water quality takes more than a cash stream

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We surveyed farmers: conservation is important

Many farmers and ranchers value the opportunity the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers to enhance their existing conservation efforts, according to a survey we completed last year. Eighty-seven percent of respondents, all living in an area with a strong agricultural presence, stated CSP should be supported as a priority in the farm bill.

We recently released, “A farmer’s view: a look at the Conservation Stewardship Program,” which analyzes these survey results and examines the efficacy of CSP in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The questionnaire was distributed to 4,799 farmers, and 829 responses were received.

CSP is the largest federal conservation program by acreage that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service administers. The program differs from other working lands programs in that it rewards farmers and ranchers for performing conservation and also provides a path for them to increase levels of conservation for their entire operation.

Survey respondents reported positive changes to soil health, water quality, and other natural resources, which indicate the program is working as it should. Conservation enhancements chosen by farmers and ranchers are meant to address priority resource concerns that are not confined to a single farm or ranch, but rather impact the surrounding region. With enhancements that reduce erosion and prevent water runoff, CSP helps protect our most valued, and shared, resources.

With CSP, farmers and ranchers can access greater levels of  conservation, see advantages of those practices, and value the education and financial support to help achieve these conservation benefits. This demonstrates the reassuring conclusion that CSP is working as it should.

To view the report, visit cfra.org/publications/AFarmersViewOfCSP. Read more about We surveyed farmers: conservation is important

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Weekly column

Staff Spotlight: Starting my first internship

This May, I started as a communications intern for the Center of Rural Affairs with an objective of contributing to rural communities. Working at the Center gives me a chance to grow in my profession, as well help rural communities flourish.

Recently, I completed my first year of college, studying Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I am a first generation American, as my parents originated from Chihuahua, Mexico. Raised in Grand Island, Nebraska, we later moved to northeast Nebraska, residing in the towns of Lyons and Decatur. I graduated from Lyons-Decatur Northeast High School in 2017.

I am thankful for growing up in an urban area, however, living in a small town created opportunities. Community members inspired me to continue my education and helped me to discover a passion. I met my neighbor, Bill Hedges, who introduced me to film and photography. Bill owns a studio in Lyons, called Cosmic Studios. With his help, I was able to explore and learn how to operate different film equipment and use several techniques.

Being able to capture a mood or describe someone's story has always fascinated me and drew me into film and photography. This fall, I plan on continuing my education at the University of Wyoming studying Film Production.

I am honored and forever grateful for receiving this internship. I am able to help the communications team maintain relationships among the media. Working at the Center helps me succeed in the pursuit of my career by building relationships and getting to learn procedures in journalism writing. I feel privileged to work at the Center, where I get to help my community in Lyons, Nebraska, to ensure better rural living. Read more about Staff Spotlight: Starting my first internship

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A farmer's view: a look at the Conservation Stewardship Program

This report examines the efficacy of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. These states were selected based on their high rates of CSP contracts and acres enrolled in the program, as well as their role as agriculture-centric states. Through surveying participants in these regions, we acquired valuable data from farmers and ranchers regarding their enrollment and satisfaction with the program. Read more about A farmer's view: a look at the Conservation Stewardship Program

Dear Congress: Please use the farm bill to invest in rural business

The Center for Rural Affairs recently led an effort to gather organizations in support of the Rural Microenterpreneur Assistance Program in the farm bill. Last week, this letter was sent to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.


June 26, 2018

To the members of the U.S. House and Senate,

We are writing, as grantees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), to ask you to support $3 million in mandatory funding each year for RMAP in the farm bill. Your investments in rural small businesses today will continue to provide valuable benefits to rural communities across America for years to come.

Created in the 2008 farm bill, RMAP has allowed numerous small rural businesses to access much-needed loan capital. This vital program makes grants to organizations that provide training and technical assistance and make small loans to new and existing rural small businesses. Though relatively small, receiving $3 million annually in mandatory funding since 2014, RMAP has facilitated 2,100 small businesses in expanding operations, creating jobs, and tapping into new markets.

According to the Wall Street Journal, between 1995 - 2015 the percentage of rural areas without a local bank increased from 12 percent to 32 percent. The absence of local banks severely limits credit to small and emerging businesses that need financing for working capital and equipment expenses in order to grow.

A small investment in this program in the farm bill makes a big difference. RMAP provides important and necessary tools for rural small businesses, and is a sound investment in the future of our rural communities.

The future of rural America is at stake in the farm bill. Small businesses contribute to the vitality of our communities, and are an integral part of our nation’s economy. We must work together to ensure that small businesses have the support and tools that they need to grow and develop into lasting and successful operations. We, the undersigned organizations who have received RMAP grants and/or understand the benefits they bring to rural communities, ask that you support and restore mandatory RMAP funding in the farm bill to $3 million per year.

Thank you,

California FarmLink, Santa Cruz, California
Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska
Clearwater Economic Development Association, Lewiston, Idaho
Communities Unlimited, Inc., Fayetteville, Arkansas
Community Concepts Finance Corporation, Lewiston, Maine
Community First Fund, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Community Resources and Housing Development Corporation, Westminster, Colorado
Community Ventures Corporation, Lexington, Kentucky
Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation, Camden, New Jersey
Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center, Easton, Maryland
Feed the Hunger Foundation, San Francisco, California
First Ponca Financial, Grand Island, Nebraska
Glacial Lakes Area Development, Britton, South Dakota
Jefferson Economic Development Institute, Mount Shasta, California
Klamath Lake Regional Housing Center (KLRHC), Klamath Falls, Oregon
Lakota Funds, Kyle, South Dakota
MaineStream Finance, Bangor, Maine
MoFi, Missoula, Montana
Northern Initiatives, Marquette, Michigan
Northern Maine Development Commission, Caribou, Maine
Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation, Ware, Massachusetts
Seattle Economic Development Fund dba Business Impact NW, Seattle, Washington
Terra Green Community Development Corporation, Alameda, California Read more about Dear Congress: Please use the farm bill to invest in rural business

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Senate farm bill, unpacked

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week, by a vote of 86 to 11. The bill included a very important improvement with the inclusion of Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) proposals to make farm program payments fairer and close loopholes in the definition of “actively engaged in farming.” Here, we explain where we are with the farm bill and what it means for rural America.

What happened? Nuts and bolts

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the farm bill on June 13, then the full Senate took up the farm bill on the floor during the week of June 25. During the time in between, senators negotiated proposed changes – or “amendments” – to introduce, and what the content of those amendments would be. Senate leadership also discussed which amendments they would allow on the floor for a vote. You can look through the full list of amendments that were filed, and their text can be found at the Congressional Record, under the date they were filed.

Senate leadership also agreed on a list of amendments to be introduced as a package and included in the bill. On Wednesday and Thursday last week, Senators on the floor (who were under pressure to pass the bill before an upcoming recess week) took up a short list of amendments. Some received a voice vote, some a roll call vote. We’ve explained the issues below. (For those new to this process, note that less controversial issues are often passed by voice vote, while roll call votes are used for more controversial items). After working through the short list of amendments, Senators voted on the full bill, which passed 86 to 11.

The next step on the path to the farm bill is a conference committee between the Senate and House to address the differences between the bills.

Structure of agriculture – battle won, war not over

The Center for Rural Affairs is proud to have a long track record of work on issues intrinsic to the structure of agriculture. Our guiding principle is that consolidation in agriculture has undermined rural towns across the Midwest, and public policies that subsidize consolidation do not belong on the books. Strong and real limits on the amount of government payments that individual operations can access is fundamental to fostering fairness in agriculture. Exploitable loopholes in commodity payment programs and unlimited crop insurance subsidies are two major weaknesses in our agricultural programs that allow taxpayer dollars to drive farm consolidation.

In last week’s debate, several Senators brought forward proposals to address these unfair policies. Sen. Grassley has been a champion of fixing egregious loopholes in farm programs by strengthening the definition of “actively engaged in farming,” which we elaborate on here and here. In 2013, Sen. Grassley successfully passed his proposals through the House and Senate; however, they were removed when the bill went to conference negotiations for the final 2014 farm bill.

This year, Sen. Grassley’s proposals were included in the package of amendments that was passed by voice vote on the Senate floor. Their inclusion is tantamount to a stamp of approval from Senate leadership – a HUGE win!

But, the fight isn’t over. We will closely follow the status of this proposal as the bill moves to conference. The House version of the farm bill proposes to take several steps back and open new loopholes for payments. So, stay tuned.

Fairness in crop insurance and other structural issues ignored

Unfortunately, other proposals to bring fairness to the structure of agriculture are not won yet. Most disappointingly was the fate of Sen. Durbin’s amendment. Sen. Durbin, along with Sens. Grassley, Flake, Shaheen, McCain, Warren, and Lee, filed an amendment to introduce common sense limits on crop insurance premium subsidies. The proposal was to reduce the amount of crop insurance premium subsidies going to producers with an Adjusted Gross Income of more than $700,000.

Unfortunately, we will never know how this amendment would have fared, because it was not allowed to the Senate floor for a vote.

Another proposal in the final Senate bill is to significantly raise Farm Service Agency’s limits on the size of loans allowed under their direct and guaranteed loan programs. However, these proposed changes did not include a request to increase funding for loans. We are concerned the largest operations would apply for and receive a few large loans, and the available loan funding would be claimed more quickly and run out, leaving beginning and socially-disadvantaged producers unable to access credit from the Farm Service Agency. Since we know this credit is a significant and valuable resource for beginning and socially-disadvantaged producers, we are concerned these proposals have made it to the final Senate bill.

The fight continues. Onward, friends.

State of conservation and rural development programs

Conservation proposals from the Senate Agriculture Committee stayed largely unchanged as the Senate version of the farm bill moved onto the floor last week. One approved amendment was from Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to expand grazing and haying on land under Conservation Reserve Program contracts, with limitations on those activities to protect wildlife and other natural resources.

The Senate committee’s proposal to cut funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program from 10 million acres enrolled per year down to 8.8 million acres remains in the final Senate bill.

In addition, the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) remains unfunded in the Senate bill. This program allows community organizations to provide loans and technical assistance to rural entrepreneurs. RMAP supports small businesses in rural areas where they are sorely needed. The Center for Rural Affairs, for example, has been able to leverage this program to help several small, rural businesses expand through job creation and business planning. Congress should renew this funding at $3 million per year in the final farm bill.

Finally, the committee’s proposals to consolidate and preserve several programs that serve beginning farmers and ranchers and facilitate rural development were left unchanged and remain in the bill. One proposal aims to merge the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program with the 2501 program. A second proposal would merge the Value-Added Producer Grant Program with the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

Looking ahead to conference

There are major differences between the House and Senate bills in regards to the structure of agriculture, conservation, and beginning farmer and rancher and rural development programs. The House version opens loopholes in commodity payments, while the Senate would close them. The House bill would eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program, while the Senate would cut its funding from 10 million acres down to 8.8 million. The House voted to eliminate funding for several programs that provide vital support for beginning farmers and ranchers, while the Senate voted to preserve and, in some cases, merge those programs.

We will continue to work for the best farm bill possible for rural America. We look forward to working with you. Read more about Senate farm bill, unpacked

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Staff spotlight: Vacha steps down after five years

Center donors and advocates,

I'm writing today to share the news that, after much consideration, I've decided to exit my role at the Center for Rural Affairs.

A core tenet of my belief system is that if someone possesses the ability to positively impact the lives of others, they have the responsibility to do so. Nearly five years ago, when I joined the Center team, I was overjoyed to have found an entire organization filled with dedicated people: board, staff, donors, and advocates, who shared that mindset and were utilizing their considerable talents to improve the lives of rural people across the nation. I want to thank each of you for your many contributions to that effort, and for allowing me to be a small part of it.

Getting to know you, our donors and advocates, has been the highlight of my time at the Center, and I’ll miss our interactions greatly. You truly are the leaders, driving us to a stronger, brighter, rural future through the Center’s work.

Looking back on the last five years, I'm proud of all we've accomplished together – and I look forward, with great expectation, to the continued success of the Center, and betterment of rural America.

Wishing you all the best,
Tyler Vacha

Admin note: Tyler's last day was on Friday, June 22. We wish him well in his future endeavors! Read more about Staff spotlight: Vacha steps down after five years

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Where have all the bankers gone?

The Center for Rural Affairs first examined consolidation in the banking industry in “Where Have All the Bankers Gone?”, a 1978 report. We have long understood the critical link between credit, who has access, who doesn’t, and how it shapes communities.

That’s why a recent report in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. It detailed how banking in rural communities has fared in the years since the financial crisis. Small business lending in rural areas has dropped by half since 2004, accounting for less than 10 percent of total small business lending.

This challenge is compounded by the closure of many rural banks. Larger banks often buy smaller banks, then close branches in more rural markets. There are now 625 rural counties in the country without a community bank. There are 37 counties without a single bank, and 115 counties served by just one bank.

The report told the story of one small business owner who now drives 19 miles each afternoon to make deposits and get cash.

When we lose access to credit, we risk losing control of our future.

Access to credit is fundamental for the whole community. Few among us have started a business or bought a house without a loan. Schools, child care centers, and community infrastructure all rely on credit.

In response to this challenge, individual communities are setting up revolving loan funds to invest in local businesses, housing, and new value-added agricultural enterprises.

A network of community banks, credit unions, and nonprofit lenders can knit a new fabric of local banking. Doing so will take our active involvement.

What credit gaps exist in your community? What local response might be possible? Read more about Where have all the bankers gone?

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Weekly column

Iowa candidates field questions on water, health care, immigration, and more

Water quality and Medicaid were a few of the most talked about issues at a candidate forum recently held by the Center for Rural Affairs and the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County. Voters were given the opportunity to ask questions in an open forum setting in Nevada, Iowa.

Candidates for the election of Iowa state Senate District 25, Chad Buss, of Parkersburg, and Annette Sweeney, of Alden, answered questions from district residents. Issues were raised such as farm conservation, clean energy, health care, clean water, and local infrastructure.

A Nevada resident was concerned with the quality of her tap water, and wished to see some change in both water quality and city infrastructure. Both candidates agreed water quality is an issue they care about and would work hard on.

Other questions were asked about the privatization of Medicaid, the future of the Leopold Center of Sustainable Agriculture, local control – especially fireworks, rural development, solar energy, and immigration.

Buss and Sweeney mostly agreed, but held differences on immigration, solar energy, and privatizing Medicaid.

Buss, a Marine veteran and manager of a chiropractic business, was motivated to run for office after the shift to privatized Medicaid resulted in more administrative costs and less reimbursements. He does not think privatization should be reversed; however, he admitted Medicaid ran more smoothly before the shift. Sweeney believes more analysis and oversight is needed and supports staying the course with privatized Medicaid.

Sweeney spoke of her experience in rural development expanding on-farm solar, affordable housing, and rural broadband. Buss also supports these topics.

On immigration, Buss emphasized enforcement of current laws and expressed frustration with a lack of progress on reform. Sweeney’s primary concerns on immigration reform are tied to farm labor.

District 25 includes Hardin and Grundy counties, and parts of Butler and Story counties. Constituents voted for the district seat in the primary election on June 5, and will vote in the general election on Nov. 6. Currently occupying the seat is Sweeney, who won a special election in April to replace Republican Sen. Bill Dix, who resigned in March.

This forum was the first in our summer series of legislative and candidate forums around the state. With many open legislative seats, 2018 is looking to be an exciting election year in Iowa. We aim to provide public spaces for honest dialogue and civic engagement in rural communities. Stay tuned for updates on future events by joining our email list.

For more information, contact Katie Rock at 515.215.1294 or katier@cfra.org. Read more about Iowa candidates field questions on water, health care, immigration, and more

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Farm bill for rural America

Policy program staff contributed to this piece

The farm bill debate is underway. The Center’s farm bill priorities, released in November 2017, continue our work of addressing the real needs of rural communities: supporting family farms, preserving natural resources for our children and grandchildren, creating opportunity for the next generation of beginning farmers, and fostering rural economic opportunity.

Conservation

Support farmers in practicing conservation

  • Preserve full funding for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).
  • Support farmers and ranchers in expanding conservation practices by making the transition from EQIP to CSP clear and easy.
  • Support farmers enrolling in conservation by reserving 40 percent of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for continuous CRP and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
  • Strengthen conservation monitoring to allow for tracking conservation program impacts.

Help farmers manage risk through conservation

  • Offer higher crop insurance premium subsidy rates to farmers implementing conservation plans.
  • Eliminate crop insurance rules that treat planting cover crops differently from other farming practices, forcing farmers to terminate cover crops by a certain date to qualify for crop insurance. Planting cover crops should be treated like every other farming practice, from cultivating to spraying.
  • Offer lower subsidies for crop insurance premiums when farmers plant in native sod, to incentivize its protection.

Crop Insurance Reform

Support rural communities by crop insurance system reform.

  • Cap crop insurance premium subsidies at $50,000 per operation. (Only applies to multi-peril policies since they are subsidized, and would not apply to crop-hail policies, which are not subsidized.)
  • Set a limit of one crop insurance subsidy per operation.
  • Apply a $900,000 Adjusted Gross Income limit on eligible crop insurance premium subsidies.
  • Eliminate the Harvest Price Option subsidy, which allows farmers to hedge against future prices at the taxpayers’ expense.
  • Disallow established farmers to transfer yield data from their existing land to newly acquired land, supporting beginning farmers.

Fairer use of taxpayer dollars for crop insurance

  • Remove the requirement that the Standard Reinsurance Agreement be budget neutral, allowing the Risk Management Agency to negotiate a better deal for the American people.
  • Reduce crop insurance companies’ target rate of return to 12 percent and reinvest the savings into crop insurance program improvements.
  • Require annual release of data from crop insurance companies on profits, losses, and other activities.

Support all farmers in accessing risk management tools

  • Support Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) usage for farms with community-supported agriculture.
  • Offer additional compensation to insurance agents for time to write WFRP policies.

Beginning, Socially-disadvantaged, and Veteran Farmers; Rural Development; and Local Foods

Support beginning farmers

  • Improve the CRP - Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP) by removing the current funding limitation, allowing any CRP contract holder to participate, and provide additional funding for outreach.
  • Increase beginning farmers’ access to conservation programs.
  • Permanently fund the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at $50 million per year.
  • Raise the cap on direct ownership loans to $500,000 to help beginning farmers better access land and credit.
  • Expand access to crop insurance for beginning farmers.

Support socially-disadvantaged and veteran farmers

  • Fund the Outreach and Assist-ance to Socially-Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at $50 million.
  • Improve the CRP-TIP program, which is available to beginning, socially-disadvantaged, and veteran farmers.

Support rural communities

  • Fully fund Rural Development programs.
  • Fund the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) at $5 million per year for both grants and loans.
  • Continue funding the Value-Added Producer Grant Program and other programs that foster value-added and local foods systems.
  • Preserve the position of Rural Development as a full mission area within USDA.

Support local foods

  • Help farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance programs.
  • Increase access to fresh, healthy, local food among low-income groups and communities in need.
  • Develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers.

Livestock

Promote fairness for family farmers

  • Require USDA to publish and finalize the Farmer Fair Practice Rules under the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), and, in doing so, enact much needed protections for poultry and livestock producers.
  • Restore GIPSA as an independent agency within USDA.

Organic Agriculture

Support organic agriculture

  • Provide USDA’s National Organic Program with increased funding and staff to match industry growth.
  • Fund programs for farmers transitioning to organic, such as the EQIP Organic Initiative, and $11.5 million per year for the Organic Cost Share Certification Program.

Nutrition Assistance

Support nutrition assistance

  • Maintain current levels of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding, with no cuts.
  • Maintain the current structure of the program. We do not support a shift to block grants.
  • Keep SNAP in the farm bill.

For more information and updates, visit cfra.org/farm-bill.


Farm Bill Marker Bills

Bills have been introduced to be included in the final farm bill. The Center for Rural Affairs supports:

  • Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act,
  • Strengthening Our Investment in Land (SOIL) Act,
  • Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018,
  • American Prairie Conservation Act of 2017,
  • Next Generation in Agriculture Act,
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act,
  • Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act, and
  • Healthy Fields and Farm Economies Act.

Take Action

  • Make your voice heard. Call, email, or write your elected officials.
  • Step up. Write a letter to the editor. Speak out in your community. Attend a listening session.
  • Pitch in to support the effort. Your donation today helps ensure we have the resources to share your values with representatives in Washington. Please click here to donate.
  • Sign up for our email alerts for the latest farm bill news. Click here to sign up.

Feature photo: Jim French, Center senior policy advisor, (left) checks out Gene Albers’ (right) field of cover crops near Cunningham, Kansas, in March. One of the Center’s farm bill priorities is to eliminate crop insurance rules that treat planting cover crops differently than other farming practices. | Photo by Rhea Landholm

Inset photo: U.S. Reps. Roger Marshall and Ron Estes complete a simulation on the effects of heavy rainfall on bare soil (Marshall) as opposed to soil under cover crops (Estes), or continuous vegetation, at an event on March 28 in Wichita. Attendees heard about success of conservation in the Cheney Lake Watershed from two farmers who participate in working lands conservation programs, Center for Rural Affairs, Cheney Lake Watershed Inc., City of Wichita, Kansas Natural Resource Conservation Service, Kansas Association of Conservation Districts, and the Environmental Protection Agency. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about Farm bill for rural America

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Staff spotlight: Laurie has big goals and high hopes for new position

Since 1990, the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), has provided services to micro businesses throughout Nebraska. Because of financial assistance, and/or training provided through REAP, countless small businesses have grown and thrived, and just as many eager entrepreneurs have seen their dreams come true by opening their own businesses.

To lead a program which offers that much opportunity and gives so many people hope is a giant undertaking, but it’s one that Laurie Donnell is excited to begin.

Recently, Laurie took on the role of REAP director. Through the program, entrepreneurs can create a business plan, research potential markets and marketing ideas, discuss management issues with experienced business specialists, and apply for a small business loan.

“The mission and vision of the Center is in direct alignment with my own core values,” she said. “We both want to drive small business forward in the state of Nebraska.”

Center Executive Director Brian Depew added, “We’re thrilled to have Laurie on board to help lead our small business lending and services forward. We know how much opportunity there is in rural Nebraska. We want to serve even more small businesses in the future, and Laurie can help us get there.”  

With 25 years of Small Business Administration lending experience, Laurie is well-prepared for the task at hand. She has also executed two successful turnaround efforts; one with a failing restaurant, and the other with a qualitative market research company, experience that gives her unique insight into business assistance.

One of the Center’s commitments is to strengthen rural communities through small, self-employed business development. The Center offers four essential services: financing, business training, technical assistance, and networking. Laurie plans to build on these already successful services.

“I look forward to growing the lending capacity at the Center, and making a substantial impact on the future growth of small business in our state,” she said. “My hope is to eventually become the number one Small Business Administration microlender in the nation.”

Laurie’s passion for small business in rural America comes from a long family history of hard work and perseverance. A fourth generation farmer from Gordon, Nebraska, Laurie says it all started with her grandmother, who was raised in a “dug-out” home in the Sandhills, along with her 11 siblings. Since then, no one in her family has been a stranger to the rural lifestyle.

“Growing up, I was active in 4-H, and learned the value of hard work, planning, budgeting, and self-sufficiency,” she said. “Our family still operates a successful farming operation, and I have dedicated my career to assisting rural Nebraskans in building economic stability via self-employment.”

When she’s not working toward building a stronger rural America, Laurie loves to travel, golf, cook, and sew. She says her dream is to have a goat farm at her new home in rural Lyons.

Laurie serves the entire state of Nebraska, and can be reached at the Center’s main office at 402.687.2100 ext. 1026 or lauried@cfra.org. Read more about Staff spotlight: Laurie has big goals and high hopes for new position

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