Honor Veterans by Helping Fulfill Dreams to Farm and Ranch

Over 40 percent of the veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars hailed from small towns and rural areas, and many now want to farm or ranch. Last year we conducted a series of workshops for Armed Services veterans to help them get started in farming and ranching (http://www.cfra.org/veteran_farmers_project).

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

We have not been alone in our outreach to veterans. We’ve also engaged state AgrAbility projects, which provide technical advice to disabled farmers and helped serve many of the participants in our workshops who are experiencing some form of disability… a welcome encouragement that farming dreams can be realized despite physical or emotional disability.

Veterans preferred to attend these sessions alongside other veterans, feeling that other veterans would understand and support them because of their shared experiences. Our virtual farm tour with former Marine Garrett Dwyer became an example of the intense interest his success generated among other veterans.

We owe a great debt to the men and women who served in our country’s military, and the Center for Rural Affairs hopes to continue and expand upon this work in their honor. Read more about Honor Veterans by Helping Fulfill Dreams to Farm and Ranch

  • Farm PolicyBeginning Farmer & Rancher
Weekly column

Nebraska Broadband Initiative Launches Business Broadband Project

The Nebraska Broadband Initiative is launching a new project to help Nebraska businesses increase their economic vitality through better use of broadband technologies. The goal is to help businesses be more productive and competitive.

Key activities of the new project include the following.

  • Conduct an online assessment of how businesses are using broadband technologies. Survey results will provide valuable information on broadband usage by Nebraska businesses. It will allow for a comparison of business broadband usage and impacts with peers nationwide.
  • Create a personalized business scorecard. Up to 500 businesses will receive a personalized scorecard based on survey responses. The personalized scorecards will include ideas on how to better use broadband-based applications (i.e., cloud computing or selling product on line) and the potential return on investment if the application is adopted.
  • Provide one-on-one assistance. Broadband business coaches (i.e., economic developers, extension educators, Department of Economic Development field staff, and REAP staff) will work with businesses receiving the scorecards.
  • Keep coaching to success. Coaches will participate in an initial train-the-trainer session to increase their knowledge and skills to work with businesses.

The project is designed to help businesses, including micro businesses, innovate and succeed with technology as a partner. (For an example of a wired small REAP business, look here.) Creators of the new initiative have set out five objectives.

  1. Develop strategies to drive innovation by uncovering the current patterns of Internet use.
  2. Understand where investments will have the greatest impact by identifying needs, gaps, and demand for broadband.
  3. Improve local productivity and competitiveness by benchmarking against peers and industry sector leaders, within and outside your region.
  4. Promote awareness, drive utilization, and leverage assets to maximize socio-economic benefits.
  5. Track outcomes, measure impacts, reveal successes, and identify where further investment is needed.

For more information, contact contributing author Charlotte Narjes, cnarjes1@unl.edu. Read more about Nebraska Broadband Initiative Launches Business Broadband Project

  • Small Business

REAP Newsletter Fall 2013

Nebraska Broadband Initiative Launches Business Broadband Project
The Nebraska Broadband Initiative is launching a new project to help Nebraska businesses increase their economic vitality through better use of broadband technologies. The goal is to help businesses be more productive and competitive.

Development through Procurement – Nebraska’s PTAC Program
Finding the Nebraska Beyond Omaha and Lincoln
Share Your Passion on Screen!
Finding Success in the Transition from Employee to Owner Read more about REAP Newsletter Fall 2013

Rural Seniors and the Affordable Care Act

The Center is just about to release a report, Seniors and the Affordable Care Act, looking at how the new law affects seniors in rural communities. Of note, many of the reported ‘issues’ with health insurance exchanges won't have a direct impact on them.

But one need only look at rural demographics to know why seniors have much at stake in the new law. According to the 2010 Census, 19% of rural county residents in Great Plains states are 65 or older. Most rural areas of the Great Plains and Midwest are increasingly aging.

Nebraska’s rural counties are home to about 41% of the state’s total population, but contain nearly 2/3 of the state’s 65 years and older population. In many rural counties at least 1 in 4 residents are 65 or older. Most of Nebraska’s rural counties are included in a group of Midwestern and Great Plains rural counties that witnessed the highest increase in median age from 2000 to 2010.

With increased attention focused on the Affordable Care Act and its operation, and seniors making up one of the largest population cohorts in rural areas, it is reasonable many of those rural seniors are asking, What does the ACA mean for me? Most of the provisions of the law directly affecting seniors have been in effect since 2010. And other provisions coming now into effect have no bearing on seniors.

The Affordable Care Act provides a variety of benefits to seniors without imposing additional health insurance coverage obligations. The ACA provides seniors enhanced benefits in terms of wellness and preventive care and referrals to needed specialists. This will be important for rural communities, as we have greater percentages of senior citizens as residents than do urban centers. Rural residents also generally receive fewer medical screenings and preventive care procedures. The ACA also provides seniors continuing benefits directed at paying the costs of their prescription drugs.

It also appears that, despite early warnings, Medicare Advantage plans have not been negatively affected by the ACA in terms of access and enrollment. Despite a modest reduction in the number of Medicare Advantage plans, almost all seniors – including rural seniors – continue to have access to Medicare Advantage plans. And rather than declining, the number of seniors enrolling in Medicare Advantage plans is increasing beyond original estimates.

Rural seniors should not be apprehensive about the Affordable Care Act. They do not have to concern themselves with the health insurance marketplaces, the largest and, so far, most complicated piece of the law. And the ACA provisions from which seniors can benefit are becoming systematized in their day-to-day Medicare health care.

Download a copy of our new report - Seniors and the Affordable Care Act here. Read more about Rural Seniors and the Affordable Care Act

  • Rural Health
  • Small Towns
Blog (deprecated)

Finding the Nebraska Beyond Omaha and Lincoln

I’m a recovering (retired) lawyer. I had the pleasure of working with REAP for the past five years as part of my job at the Community Economic Development Clinic (CED Clinic) at Creighton University’s School of Law. Dena Beck, REAP senior project leader in their Southwest/Central Region, asked me to write about my experience.

The CED Clinic is basically a law firm for microentrepreneurs and community nonprofit corporations. It is staffed by senior Creighton law students and serves the whole state. Part of my job involved community education presentations on business and nonprofit legal issues. Most of the presentations in rural Nebraska were done in collaboration with REAP.

REAP loan specialists worked with community partners to identify topics, provide facilities, and promote the workshops. Topics included the pros and cons of limited liability companies and S corporations, getting IRS recognition as a tax exempt 501 (c)(3) organization, and others. We did presentations in 21 rural towns attended by over 250 people. I was always impressed by the participants’ questions, energy, and ingenuity.

In personal terms the most important impact of my work with REAP was experiencing small-town and rural Nebraska. I’ve spent most of my life in Nebraska. I grew up in Fremont, and I’ve lived in Omaha since 1977. But prior to the CED Clinic I hadn’t spent much time in rural Nebraska. For the most part my experience of it was driving I-80 to get to Colorado for summer vacations. Not a very engaging drive.

So my first REAP-sponsored workshop in Arnold was a revelation. I came in on part of the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway and drove the rest of it the following day. I tacked on a county road connecting Dunning and Arnold. It’s beautiful country with rolling hills and three rivers. The section between Dunning and Arnold was particularly striking.

I had no idea the Sandhills came so far east. “Wetlands” isn’t the right term, but there were lots of springs and seeps, daubs of water here and there, feeding grasslands, and sandy hills. Wonderful clear sky; lots of birds; no traffic. I pulled over several times to enjoy it. On subsequent trips to Broken Bow, Ord, Loup City, and St. Paul, I always found time to poke around the Scenic Byway.

I had the same experience south of I-80 with presentations in towns like McCook and Red Cloud. I remember a wooded, green stretch of Highway 136 where time seemed to expand. Highway 6 was fun too, driving back to Omaha on a birthday singing along with Bob Dylan and the Stones. I found time to visit not only the Willa Cather museum but the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie with its unplowed ground and tall native grasses.

The experience was also educational, guided by Dena’s exasperated responses to my ignorance about rural life. “You don’t know what the Junk Jaunt is?” Or: “You’ve never heard about the Minden Christmas lights?” Plus I picked up a Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame T-shirt in St. Paul and a Sandhills Open Road Challenge ball cap in Arnold.

I enjoyed the presentations and the people I met. I am convinced the powerful entrepreneurial drive I encountered is vital to rural prosperity. Most important for me, I found out that there’s quite a bit to see and do in our state outside of Omaha and Lincoln.

By Milo Alexander, newly retired from the Community Economic Development Clinic (CED Clinic) at Creighton University’s School of Law. Read more about Finding the Nebraska Beyond Omaha and Lincoln

  • Small Business

Finding Success in the Transition from Employee to Owner

Second Harvest Curriculum (SHC) was created as an internet business in 1993 by a homeschool family to help families save money on homeschool curriculum. The business buys and sells used home school books all over the US and internationally, including Japan, Australia, Canada, and to APOs.

Lory Power has worked for some form of Homeschool Curriculum since 2003. She began as an assistant to a Math U See curriculum representative. Next she joined Second Harvest Curriculum as an office manager. In January 2012, Lory became the overall manager, and in January 2013 she purchased the business.

photo of Lory Power, owner of Second Harvest CurriculumAs a new business owner, Lory came to REAP for assistance with a business plan, bookkeeping, and possible financing. She worked with Dena Beck during satellite office hours in McCook, NE. Lory’s completed business plan and experience in the business made her eligible for bank financing.

Lory wasted no time expanding her business’s digital presence. SHC is on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and has added a blog to their updated website. Lory uses Google Analytics to see where, when, and how her customers are coming to the business. She relies on seasonal part-time help in the busy summer months.

Early on Lory took advantage of REAP’s know-how in one-on-one bookkeeping assistance. We referred her to Connie Harvey, owner of Efficiency Counts. Lory says, “I want to say a HUGE thank you for putting me in touch with Connie. I have learned so much, and she is a very good teacher. I do appreciate all you do.” She has also attended other Women’s Business Center trainings since taking over her business.

This veteran homeschool Mom says her greatest reward is talking to homeschool moms. Lory says, “Whether they are new or veteran homeschoolers, I always learn something.” Second Harvest Curriculum is determined to help homeschoolers make informed decisions as to what they are purchasing. They will continue to offer quality educational materials at prices that save the homeschool family money for as long as needed.

Lory’s business was featured this spring in Washington DC during the national Friends of the SBA event!

Lory Power, Second Harvest Curriculum
McCook, NE, 877.923.1682
*Find their Facebook link at the bottom of the home page. Read more about Finding Success in the Transition from Employee to Owner

  • Small Business

Farm Bill for Small Town America Too

As Congress enters the final stages of moving forward a final Farm Bill, we must all remember that the Farm Bill is the vehicle by which Congress makes crucial investments in the rural economy. The final bill should invest in fostering a new generation of family farmers and ranchers as well as preserving the natural resources necessary for creating a better future for those beginners and for small town and rural America.

The Farm Bill can and should address the stern challenges beginning farmers and ranchers face through programs that help them access land, capital, training and mentoring. The final bill should sustain direct funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, that provides training and technical assistance, at no less than $20 million per year, with an ongoing set-aside for veterans, socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers and ranchers, without diverting funds to unrelated programs. It should also provide at least $50 million in direct funding for the Conservation Reserve Program - Transition Incentives Program to help new producers gain access to farm and ranch land while retaining conservation values.

The final Farm Bill should also hold additional conservation cuts to no more than those in the Senate bill, and keep cuts to ten percent or less overall for each working lands conservation program - Conservation Stewardship Program, which rewards those farmers who practice whole-farm stewardship of land and natural resources, and Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which helps farmers and ranchers implement needed conservation practices. Read more about Farm Bill for Small Town America Too

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Final Farm Bill Should Include Reform and Investment

With the Farm Bill process finally moving forward, we sent a letter to the House-Senate Conference Committee strongly urging them  to emerge with a final 5-year Farm Bill that addresses the needs of family farmers and ranchers, small towns, rural small businesses, and protects our natural resources.

Important provisions in one or both bills provide much-needed reform to farm programs, ensuring they serve the needs and interests of family-scale farmers and ranchers. Historic payment limits and “actively engaged in farming” reforms were adopted in both House and Senate with substantial bipartisan support.

The Senate and House bills cap farm payments at $250,000 and tighten loopholes that have allowed some non-farmers to game the system and evade payment limits. These provisions are nearly identical in the two bills, and they should remain in the final Farm Bill without further change or negotiation.
Our letter also urges Conference Committee members to accept the Senate’s modest reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires, include the Senate’s Sodsaver provision that protects prime grasslands and native prairie nationwide, and reject the House provision to obliterate the farmer and rancher protections provided by the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Moreover, the Farm Bill is also the vehicle for Congress to make crucial investments in the economy of small town and rural America. The final bill should invest in our small towns, rural mainstreet businesses, and entrepreneurial farmers and ranchers.

Real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade, despite broad support for such investment. Nearly 9 in 10 rural Americans say the rural, small town way of life is worth fighting for. But 7 in 10 worry it’s dying, according to a poll of rural voters in over 20 other Midwestern, Great Plains and Southeastern states.

You can see the specific reforms and investments in our letter to the House-Senate Conference Committee hereRead more about Final Farm Bill Should Include Reform and Investment

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Blog (deprecated)

The Annual Reset

It’s that time of the year again. We have reset the register to $0 and started the new fiscal year. Thank you to everyone who donated last year in support of the Center, our mission, and the causes we champion. With your help we have accomplished much in the last year, but there is still so very much more that we can accomplish together.

This year’s letter should have recently arrived in your mail. Please continue to help us fight for the principles and beliefs you know to be right. Return your donation using the envelope provided in the package. You can give online here too!

After you do, be on the lookout for a call from one of our board or staff members as we reach out in appreciation. We look forward to expressing our gratitude as we discuss the Center and your hopes and dreams for rural and small town America. Read more about The Annual Reset


63 Million Acres Enrolled in Flagship Conservation Program

Once this year’s Conservation Stewardship Program contracts are finalized, the program will have reached a total of approximately 63 million acres enrolled nationally. It is helping roughly 48,000 farmers and ranchers across the country meet their conservation goals on working lands.

Over the last decade or more, we worked hand-in-hand with several organizations, such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (of which we are a founding member) to make this program a reality for farmers and ranchers who truly care about conservation.

We worked directly with farmers and ranchers to help them access the program. We listened to their concerns as they went through the process, and learned what they thought was working and not working.

With that information in hand, we developed ideas for program improvements. Then we made your voices heard with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and even members of Congress. And we won some improvements!

Once again, we are calling on farmers and ranchers. If you recently went through the latest signup (or any signup) of the Conservation Stewardship Program, please call our Farm Bill Helpline at 402.687.2100 to share your story.

Only with your help can we make the program serve the conservation goals of family farmers and ranchers. Read more about 63 Million Acres Enrolled in Flagship Conservation Program

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food

Farm Bill should address Rural America's Needs

With the Farm Bill finally moving forward, the Center for Rural Affairs urges the House-Senate Conference Committee to ensure that the bill address the needs of family farmers, ranchers, and small towns while also protecting our natural resources.

The Committee must reform the farm safety net, including farm program payments and federally subsidized crop insurance. There are important provisions included in one or both bills that will provide needed reforms to these programs. These reforms should move forward into the final bill. We urge the conferees to: adopt the historic payment limits and “actively engaged in farming” reforms adopted in both bills with substantial bipartisan support; accept the Senate’s modest reduction in crop insurance premium subsidies for millionaires; include the Senate’s Sodsaver provision that protects against destruction of prime grasslands and native prairie nationwide; and, reject the House provision to obliterate the farmer and rancher protections provided by the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Real federal investment in helping small towns and rural entrepreneurs has fallen by half over the last decade. The Conference Committee should reverse this trend with direct funding for the Value-Added Producer Grant program at its historic level of $20 million annually and increase direct spending for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which provides loans and technical assistance to rural small businesses, to $10 million annually.

These reforms and investments have broad support, in Congress, and perhaps more importantly, throughout rural and small town America. They should be included in the final Farm Bill. Read more about Farm Bill should address Rural America's Needs

  • Farm PolicyFarm Bill
Weekly column

Sodsaver Provision in Farm Bill Would Help Address Major Loss of Grassland

Recent USDA data finds that, in 2012 alone, nearly 400,000 acres of grassland and other newly broken land were converted to cropland nationally. Nebraska led the way with over 54,000 acres of new land broken out for cropland.

Our analysis of the Farm Service Agency data, collected for the first time in 2012, reveals the importance of including a national Sodsaver provision in the Farm Bill. Some will argue that high commodity prices, not federally subsidized crop insurance, has been the driver behind the loss of grassland. We would suggest that even while high commodity prices are likely the leading factor, federally subsidized crop insurance is certainly an incentive by providing a guaranteed revenue stream on those acres.

A national Sodsaver provision would help address the significant loss of grasslands by ratcheting down the subsidy and guarantee level on federal crop insurance for cropland converted from native prairie.

Our analysis demonstrates that of the five states with the most acres of land converted – Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Florida, and Iowa – only two have small portions of the state in the Prairie Pothole Region. Most of the states near the top of the list, and a majority of converted acres, are outside that region.

The Senate’s Farm Bill includes a national Sodsaver provision. Thanks to Senator John Thune (R-SD) for leading the introduction of the Protect our Prairies Act, and six other senators who signed on and supported it – Senators Johanns (R-NE), Brown (D-OH), Bennet (D-CO), Durbin (D-IL), Harkin (D-IA), and Klobuchar (D-MN). Because of their efforts, this act was adopted as part of the Senate’s Farm Bill.

The House version includes a Sodsaver provision as well, but it is limited to the portions of five states that are in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains, despite the efforts of Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and 20 other cosponsors who called for a national provision.

This data could not be more timely for the farm bill debate, nor could it more clearly make the case for a national Sodsaver provision. Limiting the Sodsaver provision to the five-state Prairie Pothole Region would provide inadequate protection for native grassland. That’s why, at the end of the day, the Senate’s Sodsaver provision should be the one included in the final Farm Bill. Read more about Sodsaver Provision in Farm Bill Would Help Address Major Loss of Grassland

  • Farm PolicyFarm and Food

What Has Nature Done for You Lately? More than You Might Think!

The last time I wrote, I introduced the concept Ecosystem Services, which means the multitude of resources and processes supplied by ecosystems to our benefit. Ecosystem services are divided into four large categories: provisioning, regulating, habitat or supporting, and cultural.

Collectively, they can be thought of as humanity’s life-support system. Some ecosystem services are described briefly below. How many of them can be found on or near your farm or home?

Provisioning Services describe the material or energy outputs of ecosystems:

  • Food - Freshwater and marine products, the often-overlooked forest foods, and of course, agro-ecosystems.
  • Raw materials - Plant fibers-cotton, linen, etc; biofuels-plant oils, lumber are included in this category.
  • Medicines - Provided for direct use, or as raw material for the pharmaceutical industry. Purple coneflower and foxglove are more than just pretty.
  • Fresh water - Excess nitrates in well water? Bacteria in wetland habitats is able to convert nitrate into atmospheric nitrogen, which is not an aquatic pollutant.

Regulating Services include many things, such as:

  • Local climate and air quality - Trees shade your house, forests influence rainfall and water availability, plants remove air pollutants, just to name a few. 
  • Carbon sequestration & storage - Plants remove atmospheric carbon and store it in tissues, and oceans – our largest carbon sinks – absorb carbon through a process called “air-sea gas exchange.” 
  • Moderation of extreme events - Wetlands soak up flood waters, and coastal buffers like mangroves and coral reefs protect from storm damage. 
  • Waste water treatment - Microorganisms in wetlands eliminate pathogens and reduce levels of pollution. 
  • Erosion prevention & maintenance of soil fertility - Vegetation keeps our soil intact, and a variety of life-forms and ecosystem functions – such as decomposition and flooding – maintain its fertility. 
  • Pollination - Through wind and insects – and some birds and bats – we are provided with fruits, vegetables, and seeds.
  • Biological control - Ecosystems regulate pests and impede vector-borne disease through activities of predators and parasites. Fungus, birds, bats, flies, wasps, and frogs are some of our most helpful natural controls. 

Habitat or Supporting Services comprises:

  • Habitats for species - Habitats provide the food, water, and shelter that species need to survive. Every ecosystem provides different habitats essential for various species’ life cycles. Migratory species (birds, fish, insects, mammals) are all dependent upon different ecosystems along the course of their migration. 
  • Maintenance of Genetic Diversity - How genetically diverse a species is within and between populations is important. Locally adapted breeds or races are able to withstand local climate hardships, and genetically diverse groups can bet¬ter withstand disease outbreaks. 

Cultural services are where we get away from the ‘mechanical’ side of things. This category comprises:

  • Recreational and mental & physical health - How many of you like to play sports or go for walks outside? 
  • Tourism - When we go hiking, bird-watching, kayaking, and so on amongst natural areas we contribute to local economies. 
  • Aesthetic appreciation & inspiration for culture, art & design - The natural environment has informed our language and is a constant inspiration. Floral and foliage motifs on our fabrics and wallpaper, and sports team mascots are an everyday illustration of this fact. But, sciences too are inspired by nature. Have you ever heard of biomimetics? This is when engineering takes design inspiration from the natural environment, such as using shark skin to inspire swimwear fabric design and boat hull surfacing. 
  • Spiritual experience & sense of place - Around the world we find sacred spaces – forests, caves, mountains, etc. – and nature as a common element in all major religions, as well as local customs. 

On your farm or in your small town what are the services you experience? Which have decreased, and which have increased? Please write to me and tell me about which services you are most aware of, and which ones are new and surprising. I would love to hear from you! Email adelep@cfra.org.

The term “Ecosystem Services” became more broadly used after the publishing of a UN report, The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which compiled global biological data and sought to determine the status and trends of ecosystems around the earth. Perhaps not surprisingly, the assessment concluded that we are having a significant and increasing impact on the biodiversity of our ecosystems, and in turn reducing their resilience and biocapacity. Learn more about the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment here. Read more about What Has Nature Done for You Lately? More than You Might Think!

  • Clean Energy
  • Small Towns

Water: Overcoming a Tragedy of the Commons

Supplies of freshwater are tightening. The issue is complex – driven by changes in surface and groundwater use, a changing climate, and a patchwork of regulatory bodies.  Take an example from the Center’s backyard. Across an expansive swath of the heartland, water from the Ogallala Aquifer supports farm, ranch, and rural life. More than two million people and one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle grown in our country are supported by the aquifer.

There’s one problem. We’re depleting key parts of the aquifer faster than they can be recharged by rain.

Availability of water in a vulnerable part of Kansas could peak by 2040. A proposed water conservation plan developed by local agencies would reduce use by 20 percent, delaying peak water availability until 2070. Avoiding the peak altogether requires conservation practices beyond those currently contemplated.

Drop south to Texas and you’ll find places where the water table has fallen from depths of 150 feet to 300 feet or more. Wells that yielded 1,000 gallons a minute struggle to produce 100 gallons a minute.

While the challenges in these areas are more severe, they show the growing dilemma we face as our appetite for water outstrips supply.

Management and regulation of water is often left to a patchwork of local and regional water districts. This makes even statewide management difficult to coordinate, let alone regional approaches. Local water districts are reluctant to impose usage limits even in the face of water shortages.

In many ways this is a classic tragedy of the commons. That’s why it is up to us. Rural people need to come together to develop water use plans that support our community today while preserving the resource to support our children and grandchildren.

Technology advancements can help. Improved irrigation systems reduce water use by 20-30 percent without sacrificing crop yields. Some row-crop irrigators are experimenting with drip tape laid in the ground, a practice historically used only for more water-intensive specialty crops.

More efficient irrigation and other technological advancements can only solve part of the challenge. Land use and cropping system changes will be needed too. Crops such as sorghum and milo are less water intensive than corn. Increased pastureland can provide farmers more flexibility in dry years. It will be critical to demonstrate how those who work the land can make a profit and how communities can remain vibrant while using less water.

Federal farm programs designed to incentivize water conservation recently came under scrutiny. They were blamed for fueling an expansion of irrigated acres as efficiency improved. Incentive programs only help address the challenge if farm policy is reformed to discourage expansion of irrigated acres.

As rural leaders, it is up to us. We must work together to protect the heritage of our communities and preserve the ability of our children to continue to live and work in the areas we call home. Read more about Water: Overcoming a Tragedy of the Commons

  • EnvironmentWater

Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

The health insurance marketplaces are open! Let the questions begin.

What are the deadlines I need to know? By January 1, 2014, everyone must have health insurance. There is no penalty if you are below the poverty line and your state did not expand Medicaid. If you buy insurance on the health insurance marketplace, you must buy before December 15, 2013, for coverage to start on January 1. You can purchase health insurance on the marketplace until March 31, 2014. To see an estimate of your premiums before tax credits are applied, go to the “window shopping” link at healthcare.gov/find-premium-estimates.

What happens if my income changes over the year? Will I have to repay my premium subsidy? When you buy coverage in the health insurance marketplaces, you use last year’s tax forms to estimate next year’s income. If you anticipate changes to your income, you should factor those in, and come up with the most accurate income estimate you can. If you end up making more than what you estimated and your premium subsidy is too big, you may have to pay some of the subsidy back. If you make less than your estimate, there is no penalty.

What if I need help purchasing insurance? There are a number of ways to get help with your health insurance purchase. Healthcare.gov answers some commonly asked questions on their website. There is an online chat function too, where you can ask questions via your computer to a live person. If you prefer phone, there’s a help line open 24 hours a day, call 1.800.318.2596 (TTY: 1.855.889.4325).

There are also people trained to help you. They are called “navigators,” “application assisters,” or “certified application counselors.” You can also go to various government agencies, such as Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) offices. Insurance agents and brokers can also help. Visit LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov to find help in your area.

Scammer alert! If a stranger calls you asking for personal information like your Social Security number, do not give it to them. Contact one of the places above instead. Read more about Health Insurance Marketplaces Open

  • Rural Health


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