Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Building Hope for a Better Future - Part III

Building Hope for a Better Future in a Challenging Age

Center for Rural Affairs 2005 Annual Report

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director,

Our Mission: Establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and future of their communities.

Our Vision: Become the leading force engaging people and ideas in securing a better future for rural America.

New Farm Opportunities and Sustainable Agriculture

We continue to open doors of opportunity to a new generation of farmers. We made three loans of livestock to beginning farmers in partnership with Heifer Project. And we joined forces with the state of Nebraska, University of Nebraska, and Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society to launch the Farm Beginnings initiative to provide beginning farmer training.

It not enough to help farmers get started; we must also develop opportunities to prosper. Toward that end we assisted seven small cooperatives with 114 members. For them we prepared two feasibility studies and seven market analyses. The cooperatives’ activities include selling natural meats, honey, fresh produce, and products from ostrich and emu fat.

We assisted one dozen Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota family farmers in forming a new cooperative – Family Farmers and Ranchers Meats (FFARM) – to negotiate fair prices for volume delivery of family-farm raised natural hogs and cattle. The cooperative completed a feasibility study and was legally established during the year.

We worked with 39 farmers and three Natural Resource Districts to demonstrate innovative ways of building soil organic matter, thereby reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases. We believe this will ultimately provide farmers across the nation income-earning opportunities as the world struggles to manage climate change.

Doing Our Homework: Research and Analysis

We’ve become one of the nation’s leading sources of analysis on asset-based rural development. By asset-based development, we mean development that helps low and moderate-income people build assets – start businesses, own homes, and gain education.

We provided timely analysis to the national media, policymakers, and the public on proposed federal budget cuts affecting rural America, including a devastating critique of the “Strengthening America’s Communities Initiative.” The Bush Administration Initiative would have eliminated 18 community development programs and replaced them with one – which our analysis demonstrated would bypass most rural communities.

Together with Iowa State University, we analyzed the extent to which a series of USDA programs were serving small and midsize farms. We found much room for improvement. We presented our preliminary report in Washington briefings to 25 congressional and USDA staff and national media.

We published six editions of the Rural Action Brief distributed to 1,900 readers across the nation seeking in-depth analysis of critical rural issues. Our analysis is highly respected by reporters across the nation. It has appeared in over 1,000 news outlets from coast to coast and thereby brought the critical issues facing rural communities to all Americans.

Organizational Strengthening, Communication, and Administration

We are putting the voice of rural America before the nation. We passed a milestone in getting our stories played on as many as 1,300 radio stations across the nation. Our newsletter and website set high standards for timely information on rural issues. Our blog allows our supporters to talk with us.

The Center runs a lean but effective administrative operation. We passed our annual audit with flying colors, demonstrating that grants and donations are properly spent and accounted. We’re a leader in adopting procedures and creating a culture that prevent self-serving actions by management, such as those that brought down some of the nation’s largest corporations. Our top salary remains little more than twice the lowest.

We cut the number of staff devoted to support services and administration by replacing two directors who left with one director of Administration and Organizational Development. That enables us to commit more of our resources to media outreach and financial development to build power for change.

Even with the reduction, our administrative staff is unsurpassed in timeliness and effectiveness in keeping the books, paying the bills, and getting out large mailings when developments in Congress demand quick and massive action.

Our new internal staff Unity Council is building teamwork and skills within the staff. The Center has never been blessed with a more cohesive, effective, and motivated staff.

In all of these efforts, we are guided by a skilled Board of Directors with unparalleled dedication and passion for our work and mission. They keep us inspired and on track.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Building Hope for a Better Future - Part II

Building Hope for a Better Future in a Challenging Age

Center for Rural Affairs 2005 Annual Report

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs,

Our Mission: Establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and future of their communities.

Our Vision: Become the leading force engaging people and ideas in securing a better future for rural America.

Microenterprise Development

Our Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (REAP) is one of the nation’s premier rural development programs. But we are not resting on our laurels.

REAP is aggressively growing its portfolio, surpassing $2.75 million in lending to rural microenterprise, businesses with five or fewer employees. It is now approaching 5,000 businesses served with training, technical assistance, or loans. This year we worked with over 500 businesses.

REAP serves all rural microentrepreneurs. It made strides in reaching out to women and Hispanics entrepreneurs – a growing part of rural America. We launched our new Hispanic Business Center to serve over 50 rural Hispanic entrepreneurs. And REAP’s Women’s Business Center received the “Excellence in Microenterprise Work with Women Entrepreneurs” award from the Association for EnterpriseOpportunity (AEO).

REAP is a national model for small business-based rural development. It guides our efforts to build a program in the next farm bill to provide funding for other rural states to establish statewide small business development services.

Hometown Competitiveness Initiative

We are one of four core partners in an initiative led by the Nebraska Community Foundation and funded by the Kellogg Foundation to bring a four-pronged development process to rural communities. Hometown Competitiveness is based on the philosophy that rural communities can control their own destiny by investing their time, talent, and money in small business development, leadership development, youth engagement, and local philanthropy (charitable giving).

The Center’s REAP is a major element in the initiative, providing business training, technical assistance, and loans to existing and potential small businesses. We also arranged youth engagement and leadership development activities in six communities and are facilitating development activities in Knox County.

The Center will play the lead role in carrying the lessons learned to state and federal policymakers. Hometown Competitiveness can provide a model for federal and state programs to support local initiatives to revitalize rural communities across the nation.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs

Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Building Hope for a Better Future

Building Hope for a Better Future in a Challenging Age

Center for Rural Affairs 2005 Annual Report - Part I

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs,

Our Mission: Establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and future of their communities.

Our Vision: Become the leading force engaging people and ideas in securing a better future for rural America.

Fighting the Good Fight for Policy Change

We gained a partner in the fight for limitations on federal farm program payments that subsidize mega farms to drive smaller operations out of business. Oxfam – one of the world’s largest international development organizations – wants big payments stopped because they are undermining Africa’s small farmers. Too often, family farmers around the world are pitted against each other. We’re helping them join forces.

Congress did not pass payment limitations, but we continue to build strength. Payment limitations gained the support of another major state commodity organization – the Iowa Corn Growers Association – thanks to the efforts of committed family farmers speaking out. And a Kellogg Foundation poll found voters in Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota favored payment limits over other spending cuts by nearly three to one.

We fought to hold our key gains in the last farm bill – the Conservation Security Program, which rewards farmers and ranchers for good stewardship, and the Value Added Producers Grant Program, which helps family operations build new higher value markets. The Conservation Security Program survived an attack on its budget, but lost some funding. The Value Added Program emerged unscathed.

We helped fix some biases in the Conservation Security Program against farmers who rely on legume-based rotations for nitrogen. And we helped steer one-third of the Value Added Producer grants to projects specifically aimed at small and midsize farms or sustainable agriculture.

We joined with a coalition of conservation and rural development groups to work together in shaping the next farm bill to support family farms, conservation, and rural development. We hired a new organizer to build a National Rural Action Network – tens of thousands of people across the nation speaking out for rural America on critical issues before Congress.

In the Nebraska Legislature, we had our best year ever. With our friends and allies, we won $850,000 for grants to family farmers and ranchers for value added initiatives, $250,000 in grants to rural communities for entrepreneurial development, a doubling of funding for microenterprise development (businesses with five or fewer employees), and the nation’s first ever microenterprise investment tax credit.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs

Values. Worth. Action

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Initiative 300 Ruling Weakens States

Initiative 300 Ruling Weakens States

Chuck Hassebrook,, Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs

The federal court ruling striking down Nebraska’s corporate farm law is not only bad for family farmers, it’s bad for all Americans.

The decision on Initiative 300 will be appealed. But if it stands, it will establish an extreme precedent that concentrates power in the federal government and deprives states and localities of authority to establish rules that serve the common good – far beyond agriculture. The most responsive levels of government will be weakened.

Initiative 300 provides owner-operated farms and ranches a level playing field on which to compete with large investor owned operations. That is sound social policy. A large body of research demonstrates that owner operated farms support stronger, middle-class communities, while large investor owned farms lead to weak communities with “a few wealthy elites, a majority of poor laborers and virtually no middle class.”

Initiative 300 is also sound economic policy. In the 23 years since its passage, Nebraska has risen to the nation’s number one red meat producing state. Initiative 300 denies no one the right to invest in agriculture. It simply requires investors who neither live on nor operate their farm to compete on the same basis as most family operations – as sole proprietors and general partnerships.

That prevents investors from gaining unfair tax advantages over family operations and using the corporate shield to shirk legal responsibility for their investments. Without Initiative 300, farm investors cannot be held personally responsible if their corporate farm wreaks havoc on the environment or fails to pay its bills. Neighbors and the community are left holding the bag and suffering the consequences.

Nonetheless, Initiative 300 was challenged on grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against out-of-state companies. It was prompted by the successful challenge of the South Dakota corporate farm law. But this ruling went much further - to extreme lengths.

The South Dakota ruling was based on unique circumstances. The judge found that the law’s proponents intended to discriminate against out-of-state companies. We disagree with that finding, but the legal rationale was based on long standing precedent. States cannot pass laws for the purpose of favoring in-state companies in interstate commerce.

In the Nebraska case, the judge never held a trial to discern the evidence. She ruled that Initiative 300 is unconstitutional on its face, essentially because it is inconvenient for out of state interests to comply. She based that conclusion on the fact that to qualify as a family farm corporation allowable under Initiative 300, a family member must either live on or operate the farm.

The ruling is wrong on the facts. Initiative 300 does not distinguish between in-state and out-of-state corporations. A resident of North Dakota who works everyday on his North Dakota ranch could qualify his operation as a family farm corporation with no more difficulty than a Nebraska Sandhills rancher.

Once the North Dakota ranch qualifies as a family farm corporation, it can also operate in Nebraska. For example, it can have its cattle fed for a fee in Nebraska custom feedlots just like Nebraska ranchers, who don’t drive to the feedlot each day to feed the cattle they own.

But most troubling is the far-reaching legal precedent established by the ruling. It could undermine a wide range of state and local laws and transfer power to the federal government.

For example, it is inconvenient for a Floridian to gain certification to teach school in Nebraska, compared to someone prepared to meet those requirements in our teachers’ colleges. If this ruling stands, will Nebraska teacher certification laws be struck down and that responsibility handed to the federal government?

The irony of this ruling is that some of its unintended consequences may most displease its most ardent advocates. It is inconvenient for New York companies to qualify for Nebraska job creation tax incentives. It requires moving a plant to a remote location far from management. These incentives were created with the explicit purpose of favoring Nebraska production of items in interstate commerce.

If this ruling stands, will state tax incentives also be ruled unconstitutional? Even when powerful interests twist the law to suit their needs, it can come back to bite them.

In years past, politicians railed about activist judges handing down liberal rulings. We are in a new era. Now, activist judges hand down rulings that are neither conservative nor liberal, but designed to protect corporate interests and concentrate power at whatever level of government they can best manipulate.

That's not just bad for Nebraska family farmers. That’s bad for America.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

New Funding Plan Worries Montana Rural Schools

New Funding Plan Worries Rural Schools

Great Falls Tribune Capitol Bureau
Great Falls, Montana

POWER — Power, population 171, likes to poke fun at its small size. A wooden sign at the edge of town says, "Power: Next Five Exits," referring to the five streets that intersect the main road. The joking stops inside Power's low brick school building, where small is an educational plus but makes for a failing grade financially, according to Principal Jon Konen.

Even as the new plan to pay for public education moved at warp speed through the Legislature's two-day special session, lawmakers in both parties worried about its effect on the state's smallest districts. In the end, the Legislature adopted a one-size-fits-all plan that was signed into law last week by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Konen lost no time in e-mailing the governor with his opinion of the new law.

"I said, 'I hope you have a plan for two to three years down the road,'" Konen said. He worries, among other things, about losing teachers to higher-paying jobs in the Great Falls schools.
Teaching salaries in Montana lag behind those elsewhere in the country. The average salary of about $36,000 ranked 47th nationwide in 2002-03, according to the American Federation of Teachers.

"The biggest issue in the small schools, bar none, is that the salaries are lower," said Dave Puyear, director of the Montana Rural Education Association, which was among a coalition of schools and education groups that fought unsuccessfully for more money for teachers in the new plan.

Power, where teachers' salaries start at just under $21,000, is only 20 miles northwest of Great Falls, where a starting teacher makes $27,000, and where those with the most experience and education can make nearly $54,000.

Tara Ferriter, the only teacher for the Canyon Creek School outside Helena, can't even imagine that kind of money. With 10 students in first through fifth grades, Canyon Creek is one of the state's smallest districts.

"The smaller schools can't even offer a salary scale," said Ferriter. "It doesn't even behoove us to get more (college) credits because we don't even have a pay scale we can climb," said Ferriter.

The new money from the Legislature isn't going to change that situation for the smaller districts, Puyear said.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful. We're thankful for the money," he said. But a large district can find more ways to squirrel away money for 2007 than a smaller one, he said. The new law gives Montana's public schools an additional $71 million next year, on top of the $32 million allocated in the Legislature's regular session last January, the largest single increase in more than a decade.

About half the $71 million is for one-time-only programs such as weatherization and maintenance, and to defray energy costs.

Steve Zimmerman, business manager for the Power schools, said the extra money for fuel and heating costs won't help much. Power will get roughly $2,000 from the state, but so far this winter, Zimmerman is paying about $2,000 a month just for gas for the school buses, compared with $1,400 a month last year.

Schools also will get $2,000 per teacher or administrator annually, money that districts can use however they want, although the idea is to help attract and retain teachers. The smallest districts would like to put it all toward salaries, but higher salaries mean higher benefits, which will cost the districts more down the line.

"There's no benefit any more because of the multiplying effect," said Tim Tharp, superintendent of the newly consolidated Dutton-Brady district, 35 miles northwest of Great Falls. "In the long run it looks nice, but I don't know that it really solves anything," said Tharp, whose district has about 200 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including 50 at the Birch Creek and Pondera Hutterite colonies.

Some of the small districts are dealing with steeply declining enrollments, and fewer students mean less money from the state, even though many costs, such as maintenance, stay about the same, administrators said. Calvin Johnson, superintendent for the Belt schools, 20 miles southeast of Great Falls, said his district has lost 25 percent of its students in six years.

In 2000, the district had about 400 students; he expects it to be down to about 250 by decade's end. Its budgets have been flat for years, he said, so the extra $73,163 in annual money from the state "is going to be a bigger boost than we've had in years."

In Power, Konen is bracing himself for next year when this year's eighth-grade class moves on to the high school. With 25 students, it's the largest grade in the school, comprising one-sixth of the entire student population. The class behind it has eight students.

He estimates the overall loss to the elementary school next year will be $50,000.

Konen's vocal worries vanished as he led visitors through his school, stopping in classrooms to talk with students about their work. He noted that Carla Pfeifle, who teaches ninth-grade accelerated math, was a finalist as Montana Teacher of the Year this year.

He bent over a long table, where 14-year-old Shawn Ramble struggled to graph quadrants using his left hand, his purple-casted right hand the victim of a basketball mishap. "We're asking our teachers to spend more and more and more time on things, and not coming up with more compensation for them," he said after discussing Ramble's assignment with him.

The education groups that formed the Montana Quality Education Coalition will meet in January to decide how to follow up on the Legislature's action. The new school-funding plan came in response to a state Supreme Court decision that found Montana's public schools "constitutionally deficient."

The coalition had sought at least $100 million in annual spending on schools, and members said they're considering taking the state back to court. Ferriter said that, at least in Canyon Creek, the extra money "is not going to cut the mustard for us. It's not nearly enough to make the changes we need to make, in my opinion. ... The problem is still there, in black and white."

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, December 26, 2005

If Rural Mattered - What It Might Look Like

Of course rural matters and today is a good example with the transit strike in New York City. As I was watching TV this morning sipping on a cup of fresh ground organic Kona Blend coffee that was purchased in a rural grocery store, I thought, "I'm sure glad we don't have that problem here." In fact, I can sometimes drive for 60 miles on a main highway and not see another car. But I can drive the speed I want, not what the rest of the traffic dictates and, I can think.

For many years we've seen the rural to urban trend, not only in the Great Plains, but in the Canadian prairies as well. Most of us who live out here understand the cities are getting larger, that's just a fact. Winnipeg, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Omaha, Kansas City; they've all grown at the expense of the outlying rural areas. But the rural areas are worth fighting for. There's peace and tranquility, the night sky, trust in each other, you know where your food is coming from, and you know the difference between a cow and a steer.

Addressing your point about Washington; there are far too many people in Washington who believe if it is outside the beltway, it doesn't matter. Unfortunately for them, it does matter. Think for a moment if you took away the canola from North Dakota, the beef from Nebraska and the wheat from Kansas, where would we get those products, China, Argentina, Australia?

Now, lets assume that mega farms were allowed to operate. In my opinion that would eventually turn into corporate chaos. It may be good initially because people would be euphoric about new jobs and all that, but the control of corporate America we've seen so many times would take over the farm sector as well.

In the past couple of years I've done some research about organic farming. As you know the stereotype is for farms to get bigger and bigger to continue with a profit margin. Some farms, privately owned that I'm aware of, are in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 14,000 acres. To me, it's just ludicrous because they continue getting bigger and they continue farming for the bank.

Now, most of the organic farms in California are much smaller. In fact, more than half the organic vegetable farms are less than 100 acres. Some are as small as 10 and 14 acres. And they're making it. They are making profit. How can that be possible? Well, it is. They're land, machinery, taxes and labor is paid for, thus the product they produce, be it lettuce or garlic, is profit. Thus California organic farmers can afford to remain on the farm and make a living.

I am a beginning farmer. This past year, 2005, was my first growing season and I made a profit growing vegetables on one acre, yes, one acre, about 40 miles from the Canadian border. Last spring, before I purchased equipment, I was hoping to get a loan to buy a good garden tractor, seed and some other items to jump start production. USDA and the banks said one acre doesn't constitute a farm, but I ended up making more money than some of the small farms that grow wheat and barley. So, I made a promise to myself. I will not borrow money under any circumstances.

I will operate in the black, just like organic farmers do in California and when I make enough money selling cantaloupes, I will buy more riverbottom farmland and get bigger and all the time I will control the spending, not the bank. To me, bigger is 10 acres, not 10,000 acres.

Bigger isn't always better and the day is going to come when these little podunk towns in the panhandle of Nebraska, or near the international boundary in North Dakota are going to become pretty important. Have you ever heard of Kilgore or Albion, Nebraska, Leola or Presho, South Dakota, Hazelton or Noonan, North Dakota or Blue Rapids or Scott City, Kansas? I'll bet everyone in all those communities knows where Washington is?

Those small towns that are hanging on will come back. Too many people are going to get sick of the big city transit strikes and homicides and drug deals and political corruption, that they'll return to the "Buffalo Commons" that we call home. We like it here. We know there are four seasons and we know the difference between North and South Dakota.

Thanks from someone in rural America who is concerned about where his food is coming from. By the way, tonight my wife and I will be enjoying Grade AA Montana beef that we basically hand picked and paid about a third of what people in the big city grocery stores pay for it. Then, after dinner, we'll go out on the deck with a glass of organic red wine and watch the northern lights.

from a North Dakota reader,

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

What if Rural Mattered?

The question itself is presumptuous. And it depends on ones point of view, I guess. In pop culture, in New York City and Los Angeles, and on Wall Street, not many concern themselves with rural people. In Washington, the same is often true.

So, what if rural mattered? Would mega farms be allowed to use unlimited farm payments to drive beginning farmers and smaller operations out of business? Would rural development always be the last farm bill programs funded and the first cut? Would rural poverty and economic hardship be as enduring and persistent as they are now?

If you read what I have written in these pages, you know what I think. But what do you think? What is the value of rural America? What makes it worth fighting for? What would it look like, if rural mattered – not more than we deserve, not less – but if we just truly mattered?

Send me an e-mail, write me a letter or post a comment here - because I want to know, we all need to know, what it would look like if rural mattered.

John Crabtree
Center for Rural Affairs
Box 136Lyons, NE 68038

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Budget Bill Debacle Ends - VP Cheney Casts Deciding Vote

Budget Bill Debacle Ends In Tie Senate Vote

Vice President Cheney Casts Deciding Vote for Passage

Lyons, NE – This morning the Senate voted to approve the Budget Reconciliation spending cut bill by a vote of 51-50, with Vice President Cheney casting the deciding vote after the measure tied. The Vice President was flown home from his aborted Middle East trip to cast the winning vote.

“This bill is not fiscally responsible. It is fiscal larceny and reflects profoundly misguided priorities in Washington,” said Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs.

“This legislation cuts critical conservation, rural development and energy programs; including support for farmer owned ethanol and wind power production, while increasing the deficit – all so the proponents of this fiscal debacle can finance a tax cut for the richest Americans and keep million dollar subsidies flowing to mega farms to help them drive smaller operations out of business,” Hassebrook continued.

Five Republican Senators voted with the Democrats; Senators Snowe (R-ME), Collins (R-ME), Chafee (R-RI), DeWine (R-OH), and Smith (R-OR). Before approving the measure, the Senate failed to overcome three points of order on extraneous policy changes raised against the bill on a 52-48 vote. Three Republicans (Senators Snowe, Chafee, Smith) voted with all the Democrats to on the points of order.

As a result of the winning points of order, the three underlying provisions (none relating to agriculture) will be struck from the bill, and the bill will return to the House for approval, where it will almost certainly win approval whenever the House reconvenes and then be signed into law by President Bush.

The Budget Reconciliation bill will reduce federal spending $39.7 billion over 5 years, cutting student loans, Medicaid, foster care, child support enforcement as well as conservation and rural development. But those savings will be swept away by the $60+ billion in a companion tax cutting bill that is also part of the Budget Reconciliation resolution.

“This Budget Reconciliation process, which was promoted as an effort to reduce the federal deficit, will actually increase the deficit and at the same time make cuts to programs that benefit rural Americans, rural communities, children and America’s most disadvantaged families. This is not progress. We can, and must, do better than this,” said Hassebrook.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Federal Judge Strikes Down Nebraska's Anti-corporate Farming Law

Initiative 300, Nebraska’s ban on corporate farming, struck down in federal court.

In 1982, by a vote of the people, the constitution of Nebraska was amended to include a provision that prohibited corporate farming.

...Article XII of the Constitution of the State of Nebraska…Sec. 8. (1) No corporation or syndicate shall acquire, or otherwise obtain an interest, whether legal, beneficial, or otherwise, in any title to real estate used for farming or ranching in this state, or engage in farming or ranching…

The constitutional amendment goes on to generally prohibit corporations and certain other business entities from owning farming or engaging in farming or ranching, with crucial exceptions for family farm and ranch corporations.

But on December 15th, a federal judge declared that Initiative 300 interferes with interstate commerce and violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and enjoined the state of Nebraska from enforcing the law.

Attorney General Jon Bruning promised to appeal the decision. Initiative 300 will remain in effect while the case is appealed.

Others are now debating and will continue to debate the merits of the decision in this case and that debate may play out in an appeal to the 8th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. But, at a time like this, it is also important to remember why the Center for Rural Affairs and our allies have fought so hard and so long to preserve Initiative 300.

Dr. Rick Welsh and Dr. Thomas Lyson found in a 2002 report that anti-corporate farming laws are beneficial to the economies and people of rural communities when compared to states without such laws. Rural communities in states with anti-corporate farm laws have lower poverty levels, lower unemployment and a higher percentage of farms reporting cash gains.

Since 1982 Nebraska has increased its share of the nation’s hog operations, lost fewer hog operations than most pork producing states and increased its share of cattle on feed. Since 1997 Nebraska has maintained its number of feedlots with cattle on feed and ranks at the top of the nation in the number of smaller commercial feedlots. Actual numbers of Nebraska cattle and hogs rose (30% and 12 % respectively) between 1990 and 2000, and Nebraska is currently the #3 corn producer, the #5 soybean producer, the #3 livestock producer, the largest red meat producer and the largest livestock slaughterer.

In short, Initiative 300 has been part of an agricultural climate in Nebraska that has helped the state retain more family farmers and ranchers than many other states while also retaining agricultural production. And Initiative 300 has helped rural Nebraska communities weather many economic challenges, by considering the good of the many over the wealth of a few.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Budget Reconciliation Passes House -------------- Tell Senate to Vote No


Budget-Cutting Reconciliation Bill Passes the House

Senate Vote Scheduled Late Tonight or Tuesday AM


Over the weekend, members of the Budget Reconciliation Conference Committee negotiated a deal resolving differences in their House and Senate Budget Reconciliation Bills. The Budget Reconciliation Bill now has been approved by the House and is expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote either tonight or tomorrow.


These two programs, combined, make up a majority of the agriculture funding cuts– even though they represent only 1 percent of total agriculture spending! If the Senate approves the bill, IFAFS will be gone, and CSP will have at best enough left for a small sign-up in 2007 followed by consecutive years of little or no growth.

The bright spots in what is a very bad bill are that the cuts proposed by the House for the Food Stamp Program and for the Value-Added Producer Grant program were dropped from the final package. The bill nonetheless makes large cuts to the student loan program and a variety of programs that aid low-income children, families, and the elderly.

While the bill does contribute $42 billion to deficit reduction, all that gain will be more than wiped out by a pending $60+ billion tax cut bill that primarily benefits wealthier citizens. The House vote was close (212-206), but in the end only 9 Republican members voted no. The vote in the Senate is expected to be closer still, and will likely come down to the decisions of just one or two Senators. The Senate is expected to take up the conference report this afternoon, with a vote expected tonight or tomorrow.

While calls to all Senators are very important, it is urgent that these Senators hear from their constituents:
Collins (ME), Snowe (ME)
Chafee (RI)
Specter (PA)
DeWine (OH), Voinovich (OH)
Coleman (MN)
Talent (MO)
Hagel (NE), Nelson (NE)
Smith (OR)

Call the toll-free number: 800-426-8073. Ask to be connected to your Senators, and tell them: Please vote NO on the budget reconciliation conference report. It unfairly targets Conservation and programs that benefit family farmers and ranchers with huge cuts, AND it hurts low - income children, families, the elderly and disabled.

Do not allow these one-sided sacrifices to be directed at agriculture, rural communities, and low-income Americans while Congress is preparing to give still more tax breaks to the rich.

for more information post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Poorest Part of America

The Poorest Part of America
Not here, surely?
Dec 8th 2005
From The Economist
Want to see America's new ghetto? Follow the Rockies northwards towards the Great Plains

In 1859, a young schoolteacher in Illinois who would later become a famous explorer, John Wesley Powell, used to make his students sing: "Our lands are broad enough. Have no alarm. For Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm."

Uncle Sam indeed obliged. In a series of Homestead Acts, pioneers staked 270m acres (110m hectares) of land. Even after the fertile ground had been snapped up, the settlers still kept coming. In the first two decades of the 20th century, they poured into the less productive areas - eastern Montana, the western Dakotas and western Nebraska. They endured the hardships of Job. Most were driven away, but the obstinate stayed. And, alas, they have struggled ever since.

No place so demonstrates the shaky economic state of rural America as the northern Rockies and western Great Plains. Virtually all of the 20 poorest counties in America, in terms of wages, are on the eastern flank of the Rockies or on the western Great Plains (see map and table below). Not one of the ten poorest counties in this region issued a housing permit in 2002. A couple of years ago, Lester Thurow, a Montana-born economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, observed that when he got his doctorate in the mid-1960s, he associated regional poverty with the South. But he was now certain that, before he retired, "regional poverty will be a phenomenon of the northern Great Plains."

There are two unusual things about the deprivation in this region. First, it is largely white. The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm.

Second, most people do not think of themselves as poor. The landscape certainly does not cry scarcity. Judith Basin, for instance, is a county of tidy ranches and vast vistas. Cumulus clouds project great shadows that sweep over patchwork fields planted with alfalfa and wheat. To the west, the Little Belt Mountains glow blueish-green. It might almost be paradise for those who want no hills to climb.

It is only when you turn off the main road and come upon a pattern of deserted homesteads that the reality sinks in. In 2003 nearly a sixth of Judith Basin's residents lived below the federal poverty level for a family of four of $18,400. The median household income was $26,900 (against $43,300 nationally). Crime is low (meth, the scourge of many rural counties, has made only minimal incursions here), but it is still a community in decline.

Judith Basin County has lost about 6% of its population in the past four years. Around ten pupils graduate from its three high schools each year. The population of the county seat, Stanford, reached its zenith of 615 in 1960. Now it is 430 and "that's if everyone is home", as one county commissioner puts it. Larry Swanson, a University of Montana economist who has spent years studying Great Plains and Northern Rockies demography, says the picture is dire. "We are seeing a re-accelerating of the population decline. After the kids left in the 1980s and 1990s, things sort of levelled off. Now it's just plain attrition. People are dying."

It is fairly common nowadays for rural counties across America to lose people: roughly one in four did in the 1990s. What is unusual about this region is that the downturn has not inspired much zeal for invention. Granted, this region suffers from "the curse of flat counties". It lacks the mountains, rivers or dramatic geography that attract wealthy retirees or budding software entrepreneurs. Not having a vital urban area also hurts. The northern Great Plains, which covers roughly 280,000 square miles, includes only one decent-sized city—Billings (whose population is 97,000), though Lincoln, Omaha and Sioux Falls are on its eastern edge.

Yet even if you look only at agriculture, the region has plainly failed to adapt to a world in which grain and cattle are cheap. Pioneer mythology has a good deal to do with this. The walls of the Museum of the Northern Great Plains in Fort Benton, Montana, carry biblical phrases ("They shall beat their swords into ploughshares") or Thomas Jefferson's maxim of divine preference ("Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God"). But this mythology has led to a paralysing respect for antiquity.

There are a few signs of innovation. Montana and North Dakota are both trying to grow more organic crops, for which margins are higher, and state coffers are swelling because of the energy boom. But little effort has been made to process foods rather than just grow them. For instance, both North and South Dakota are leading producers of wheat and soyabeans. Yet according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the two states have less than 1% of their population employed in the food-processing industry. The crops go out by the truckload to provide jobs elsewhere.

How does the region survive? For all the brouhaha about independence, it leans heavily on the federal government. In 2003, the government spent an average of $10,200 per person in Judith Basin. North Dakota counties averaged $9,000. Most of this comes in the form of farm subsidies. In 2003, the ten poorest counties in the United States each received an average of $5.5m in federal price supports and disaster payments, according to the Environmental Working Group, which tracks federal farm payments.

Are these subsidies a curse? Certainly not in the eyes of the area's politicians, who are elected to preserve them. The figures for some states have tripled since 1995. These hand-outs certainly help to keep many farms alive (and they mean that the counties do not do quite as badly when you look at their overall incomes, as they do for wages and salaries). But they are hardly spawning a healthy economy. A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in March pointed out that the counties most dependent on farm payments were mostly those with the weakest job figures and the weakest population growth.

Moreover, the cash is being distributed in an increasingly unequal way. In 2004, 405 farmers in Judith Basin County received $4m in farm subsidies. That would imply an annual hand-out of $9,900 each, but the average for the top 20 recipients was $55,850 apiece. More of the money is being grabbed by big farmers. In one way such consolidation is welcome, but it hardly squares with the egalitarian ambitions of the Homestead Acts.

This dynamic of more money going to fewer people is not new, but, until recently, few have had the nerve to point it out. Four years ago, however, in a now famous study called "Why Invest In Rural America?", Karl Stauber of the Northwest Area Foundation claimed that farm subsidies had done nothing to improve the economic viability of America's rural communities. Of the 145 counties in the region, 123 had lost population or had grown at below 1% a year since 2000.

The primary difference between this region and other bits of rural America is perhaps denial. Just as rain never did follow the plough, modern jobs do not follow high-cost subsidised food production. The era of the small arable farmer and even of the modest-sized rancher is over. Indeed, it has been for at least half a century (though if you say that in a bar in the Dakotas or Nebraska, be prepared to duck).

As for the idea that rural America feeds the world, the truth is that it no longer even feeds America. Americans buy ever more of their food from more fertile and cheaper places like Brazil (though they have to pay more for it than they should, thanks to America's high tariffs). Meanwhile, providing this huge, sparsely populated area with services such as health care, schools and transport looks an increasingly expensive proposition for an ever more urban and suburban country. The years when Uncle Sam "is rich enough to give us all a farm" are drawing to an end.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Budget Conference Update

- from Ferd Hoefner, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Congress is still at a standstill over how to complete action on a set of ‘must-pass’ bills dealing with budget cutting legislation, hurricane and drought relief, and appropriations for Defense programs and Labor–HHS programs before they leave town for the end of the year.

A matrix of overlapping plots and strategies designed to get around filibusters in the Senate, and the loss of key moderate Republican votes in both chambers, have them negotiating over the size and methods for cutting programs, administering disaster assistance, and drilling in ANWR.

As all negotiations over the agriculture portion of the spending cut bill are happening behind tightly closed doors, we cannot be entirely certain about what is going on. But here is what we think we know.

Good news: the food stamp cut contained in the House bill is off the table and will not be in the final package. Bad news: the Conservation Security Program cut is at the higher Senate level, jeopardizing a 2007 sign-up.

Good news: the Value-Added Producer Grant program has been saved from a $40 million cut in 2007, which leaves authorization for funding in FY 07 intact and protects the programs baseline funding for the 2007 farm bill; $120 million in VAPG carryover funding from previous years is still cut, however.

Good and bad news: the 2-year extension of the MILC dairy payment program is included in the bill, but will not be counted as a cost to the agriculture package, which should limit the size of cuts to other conservation, rural development, and research programs, though we are also led to believe that there are still more of each in the package.

A further word on CSP – we are working on a last minute attempt to backload the cuts (frontload the funding) so that the 2006 sign-up of at least the size already announced by NRCS can proceed and so that there may be enough money left in 2007 for at least a small sign-up, keeping some momentum alive going into the next farm bill. No word yet whether this small adjustment will be accepted or not.

Commodities: The big major intrigue on the agriculture package has been on the commodity side. Senator Cochran (R-MS) is getting push back from the White House on his proposal to give commodity farmers a bonus, direct (AMTA) payment in 2006. Cochran intends to attach such a provision to the supplemental appropriations package for hurricane and drought relief that will be attached to the Defense appropriations bill (see below). He started the bidding at a 50 percent bonus, but is rumored to be down now to something closer to 20-25 percent. Even the lower percentage would still be in the neighborhood of $1 billion of additional commodity spending. (There is also a large battle being waged on the size of the disaster package, with Cochran pushing for $35 billion, the House $25 billion, and the White House $17 billion.)

We expect the final package will likely at least approach $30 billion. Most of that sum will be previously appropriated funds to FEMA reallocated to other programs and agencies. The White House opposes the Cochran direct payments bonus, and on Thursday insisted that cuts to the commodity programs in the budget cutting package be completely frontloaded to hit farmers in their entirety in 2006, rather than spreading the cuts out over the five-year life of the bill. They also insisted that the Senate extension of commodity program authority to 2011 be dropped.

House Agriculture Chair Goodlatte (R-VA) pushed the White House provisions in discussions with Senate Chairman Chambliss (R-GA), and almost immediately the major farm and commodity groups sent a letter to both chairmen opposing the frontloading and the elimination of the 2011 extension. We are told Friday morning’s meeting between the chairs ended quickly and on fevered pitch. If Cochran does not back down on a direct payment bonus, the Goodlatte-Chambliss negotiations will be saddled between the commodity groups wanting immediate relief and slow cuts and the White House insisting on major cuts in 2006.

Conference: A formal conference between the House and Senate on the budget reconciliation spending cut bill has been scheduled for Monday; however, there is still a chance the key GOP negotiators will reach a compromise this weekend and move to a floor vote without going to conference. In either event, the actual conference committee is expected to be a formality, yet another example of how nothing major in Congress is completed according to regular order anymore.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,
for more information

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, December 16, 2005

USDA Farm Bill Comment Period Closing

The deadline for submitting comments on 2007 farm bill issues to USDA as part of their farm bill forums is December 30, 2005.

USDA will review the public comments received, including any analyses, reports, studies, and other material submitted with the comments.

For the USDA feedback form, and to respond directly through the website, go to, or to respond through e-mail send comments to

To see the responses of the Center for Rural Affairs or the Minnesota Project, go to or

We urge you to take this opportunity to make your voice heard as the debate over the next farm bill begins. If you have questions or would like more information, post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Action - Protect Contract Farmers' Rights

Take Action to Protect Contract Farmers’ Rights in the 2007 Farm Bill

During the 2002 Farm Bill debate it was very difficult to get legislators to address the problems that contract farmers face. However, we have an easy opportunity now to influence the USDA’s recommendations for the new farm bill by submitting comments on line by December 30, 2005.

1. Go to: and click on the Farm Bill Forums button and the farm bill comments page

Enter in your comments about how you think the 2007 Farm Bill should be shaped. We encourage you to go to question number two to ask the USDA to ensure fair and competitive markets for America’s farmers and ranchers. Below are some sample comments that you can use.

Email Becky Ceartas at RAFI-USA ( or call at 919-542-1396, ext. 209, when you have submitted comments so that we can keep track of how many of been submitted.

Forward this email on to your members, friends, and colleagues to help spread the word!

Sample Comments:
In order for U.S. agriculture to remain able to supply and respond to changing global and domestic markets, farm policy should be designed to enhance competitive domestic markets. During the 2002 Farm Bill debates, public testimony provided clear and compelling evidence of the need for free market competition and fairness for America’s farmers and ranchers. Since that time these concerns have become even more urgent and prominent in the public eye. The role of government should be to facilitate properly operating markets and to bring balance to the economic relationships among farmers/ranchers, consumers and food companies.

Therefore, I urge the United States Department of Agriculture to include the following provisions in its recommendations for the 2007 Farm Bill:

1. Producer Protection Act: This proposal is designed to set minimum standards for contract fairness in agriculture. It addresses the worst abuses contained in processor-drafted boilerplate contracts. It includes: (1) Clear disclosure of producer risks; (2) Prohibition on confidentiality clauses; (3) Prohibition on binding mandatory arbitration in contracts of adhesion; (4) Recapture of capital investment (so that contracts that require a significant capital investment by the producer cannot be capriciously canceled without compensation); and (5) A ban on unfair trade practices including "tournament" or "ranking system" payment.

2. Closing Poultry Loopholes in the Packers & Stockyards (P&S) Act: USDA does not have the authority to bring enforcement actions against poultry dealers. The P&S Act omits this authority even as USDA can enforce the law against packers and livestock dealers. We seek to clarify that USDA's authority over poultry applies not only to broiler operations, but also to growers raising pullets or breeder hens. These loopholes should be closed.

3. Bargaining Rights for Contract Farmers: Loopholes should be closed in the Agricultural Fair Practices Act of 1967 (AFPA), and processors should be required to bargain in good faith with producer organizations. The AFPA was enacted to ensure that livestock and poultry producers could join associations and market their products collectively without fear of retribution by processors. These goals have not been attained due to loopholes in that Act. Retaliation by processors is commonplace in some sectors. This legislation should be passed to promote bargaining rights and prevent processor retaliation.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

REAP Success Story

Will Wild, Wild Excavating Credits REAP Financial Package for Growth

In 2004, Will and Kerri Wild and young son Cooper, were a typical young family trying to build a life in the ranching business in Western Nebraska. They lived on a leased ranch of 3,500 acres. Will was running about 145 cows and working for a construction company in a neighboring town, and Kerri worked at the local hospital as a Radiology Technician.

They found themselves just coming and going trying to balance their rural life with the demands from their outside jobs. Will wanted to start his own excavating business and had been researching the idea for about a year. He felt that with his experience and background in excavation and operating large equipment, along with his connections with other ranches in the area, he could make his own business work.

What he needed was some financial assistance in purchasing the needed excavating equipment. He already had a heavy duty truck and trailer to haul the equipment. He contacted several local lending institutions about securing financing, but was unable to find the needed help.

A local bank referred Will to the REAP program, and Will contacted Jerry Terwilliger, the Panhandle REAP Business Specialist for assistance. Will and Jerry worked on a business plan, and Jerry was able to put together a financial package that included REAP and the Panhandle Area Development loan fund to finance the needed equipment.

Will credits the REAP program for the needed financing assistance to start up his business. Will and Kerri are very pleased with the new business; Kerri says it helps with scheduling time for the young family as it makes Will’s time a little more flexible.

Kerri still works at the local hospital, and in 2005 they have added a new daughter to their family and have purchased an adjoining 1,500 acres of grass and added to their cattle herd. Will is very pleased with the business so far and is looking forward to adding additional equipment so that he can take on other types of work.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Strengthening Small Business Skills

Strengthening Your Small Business Skills in 2006

- from the desk of Glennis McClure, Center for Rural Affairs,
Phone: (402) 645-3296

The Center for Rural Affairs invites you to kick-off the New Year by sharpening your business management skills. Whether you are currently running a small business or planning to start your own, the REAP Business Plan Basics course is for you. Learn the "must-know" essentials at a lively business planning course that starts Tuesday evening, January 17, 2006 at Southeast Community College – Beatrice campus.

The five session class is designed to give existing small business owners or potential start-up companies vital information on business planning and the essentials of Promotion/Advertising, Financial Management, Customer Relations, and Goal Setting.

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) and Southeast Community College are working together to offer the course. The course registration includes an annual membership to REAP and the NxLevel manual for micro-entrepreneurs which are excellent resources when the course is completed. “REAP members have ongoing access to business technical assistance services, and a micro-loan program for small businesses,” said Glennis McClure, co-director of REAP and Director of the Women’s Business Center. “These skills are essential in the ‘make or break it’ early years of a business.”

Scholarships based on income eligibility are available to cover material costs for the Business Plan Basics Course.

For more information about the Business Plan Basics course, REAP /Women’s Business Center services, call Glennis McClure (402) 645-3296 or or Janelle Moran, REAP Business Specialist at (402) 335-3675,

This U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Cooperative Agreement with the Center for Rural Affairs is partially funded by the SBA. SBA’s funding is not an endorsement of any products, opinions, or services. All SBA funded programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Listen to Rural Youth

- from the desk of Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs,

We often assume that creating jobs is the key to community vitality – and that people will follow the jobs. But there is more to it. Jobs and opportunity can also follow people.

I recently listened to a panel of young people talk about the things that have drawn them, or would draw them back to rural communities. They weren’t looking for a city in the country with shopping malls, corporate jobs, and trendy entertainment.

They dream of running their own businesses. Young panel members said they would accept considerably less income to be self-employed rather than work for someone else.

They want a welcoming atmosphere for newcomers – including diverse newcomers who look and think differently. And they want other young people to interact with.

What will bring young people back to our communities? First – ask them what they think, and listen to what they say. And give them the influence to help create the kind of communities in which they want to live and raise families.

Communities that provide opportunities for young people to participate in decision-making will not only be more successful in attracting and keeping young people – they will have more effective leadership.

We need to create a support structure for new businesses in our communities – including opportunities to get loans, training, and technical assistance. This can include beginning farmers. For example, a community that works with a group of young farmers to capture the growing opportunities in high value markets might establish a cluster of young farmers that work together, support each other, and draw peers.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Friday, December 09, 2005

Budget Conference Looms

Senate Returns to Washington Next Week

Ferd Hoefner, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition,


Thanks to everyone who have worked hard against final passage of the Budget Reconciliation conference report. Please keep the phone calls coming at least through the end of next week. We need lots of messages, especially to House GOP moderates, urging them to vote against the budget cutting package when and if it hits the floor. If you need any assistance with targeting or with message, please contact us.

The message: Vote NO on the budget reconciliation spending cuts conference report. Cutting hundreds of thousands of people from the food stamps rolls and destroying the Conservation Security Program, the CRP conservation buffer initiative, the Value-Added Producer Grants, and the Renewable Energy Grants is not good policy or good politics. If they represent many dairy farmers, tell them nutrition, conservation and rural development programs needn’t be destroyed to save MILC dairy payments.

Budget Conference Looms: As we enter the final week or week-plus of Congress for the year, we continue to believe there is a significant possibility of the process on the budget reconciliation spending cut bill breaking down short of completion. The Senate returns Monday night and we expect floor votes on the spending cuts package no earlier than late week or next weekend. The keys to stopping the bill remain either the House-Senate conference failing to reach a deal or, if a deal is struck, moderate House or Senate Republicans blocking passage if the final deal contains attacks on the environment or cuts to anti-poverty programs that go further than they can abide.

Still at the top of the long list of controversial provisions is drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Knowing they may lose too many GOP moderates with ANWR drilling included, pro-ANWR legislators are now attempting to court Southern Democrats who support ANWR drilling by offering their support for bigger hurricane relief funding. It was reported today in Congress Daily that House Ag Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has secured agreement from the leadership that the two-year extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) dairy payment program will be included in the final budget reconciliation package but the $1 billion cost will not be charged to agriculture. If true, this will reduce the size of the total ag cuts from $4 billion to $3 billion. It would also prove our point that Senators who voted against payment limitation reform behind the dairy smokescreen would ultimately be left without a smokescreen to stand behind.

Hurricane Relief to Include Agriculture: Senate Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) has been working on emergency supplemental appropriations for hurricane relief. His package have been reported as totaling $35.5 billion, mostly in money reprogrammed from earlier emergency funds given to FEMA. Cochran has also suggested reprogramming unspent funds originally appropriated for Iraq reconstruction. The White House, which has recommended a $17 billion hurricane relief package, all from reprogrammed FEMA funds, is challenging many of the Cochran spending proposals as well as dipping into Iraq funds. The final product, whatever its ultimate size and scope, will be appended to the Defense Appropriations bill, the last bill likely to be approved before Congress leaves for the holidays. That bill will also likely serve as the vehicle for emergency spending for avian flu preparedness.

Within the Cochran package, there is currently about $4 billion for agricultural disaster relief, split between Katrina-hit Gulf areas and Midwestern drought relief. Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that Cochran may also try to attach about $2 billion in additional agricultural relief in the form of a one-year 50 percent bonus on direct (AMTA) commodity payments.


Thanks to everyone who have worked hard against final passage of the Budget Reconciliation conference report. Please keep the phone calls coming at least through the end of next week. We need lots of messages, especially to House GOP moderates, urging them to vote against the budget cutting package when and if it hits the floor. If you need any assistance with targeting or with message, please contact us.

The message: Vote NO on the budget reconciliation spending cuts conference report. Cutting hundreds of thousands of people from the food stamps rolls and destroying the Conservation Security Program, the CRP conservation buffer initiative, the Value-Added Producer Grants, and the Renewable Energy Grants is not good policy or good politics. If they represent many dairy farmers, tell them nutrition, conservation and rural development programs needn’t be destroyed to save MILC dairy payments.

for more information, post a question or comment here
or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Center for Rural Affairs - In the News

Center for Rural Affairs – In the News
Recent news coverage of the Center for Rural Affairs and our work included a quote from Executive Director Chuck Hassebrook in The New York Times November 14, 2005 article, "In Ord, Neb., the Latest Success Is 20 New Residents," by Kenneth J. Stier.

The article discussed how community foundations are helping struggling towns to attract commerce and people.

Chuck was quoted as saying, "It's one thing for someone to get a job; it's another for people to start to build assets because this ownership gives you a certain stability, a certain security to ride out tough times. That gives them a degree of control over their lives because it keeps more control of the local economy in the hands of people who actually live in the community."

The Times website can be viewed at Please note there may be a charge to view archived articles.

We were also mentioned in the article “The Land of the Free” in the July 11, 2005 issue of Time magazine which discusses rural communities’ use of land giveaways and other incentives to address depopulation and out-migration. The article quotes the Center for Rural Affairs report Fresh Promises: Highlighting Promising Strategies of the Rural Great Plains and Beyond -

This summer the Des Moines Register also concluded a major, two-part series on farming and related domestic farm policy entitled “On New Ground.” The Register series quotes Center staff and reports on several occasions and examines a number of significant issues facing family farmers and rural communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest and Great Plains.

Congratulations and many thanks to Center for Rural Affairs staff, especially Jon Bailey and Kim Preston, whose interviews and research materials facilitated this important media coverage of issues confronting family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

For more information see - and to see more of
Jon and Kim's work -

And, as always, you can post a question or comment here or contact
John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Rural School Registry Connects Hurricane Victims With Help

- from our friends at the University of Kentucky's Rural Blog

Rural School Registry Connects Hurricane Victims with Help

The Rural School and Community Trust is trying to help rural teachers, students, and families hurt by the Gulf Coast hurricanes – nearly 200,000 students that attend 400-plus rural schools.

At you can identify rural schools, learn about their losses and needs, and then respond. Rural areas hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been largely invisible through the national media.

More than two weeks after Rita hit rural Texas, 100,000 children were still unable to attend schools. In rural Mississippi and Louisiana, several schools are operating with tarpaulin roofs and no textbooks, teaching supplies, or computers.

The Trust site provides these services: if your school or district has supplies, surplus furniture, or other items you can donate, you can directly contact a school in this registry and make an in-kind donation; your school or community club, church, or civic organization can hold fund raisers, and direct your donation with a letter to a specific school. And you, personally, can make a credit card donation online and direct it to a specific school, or if you prefer, tell them to send it where it is needed most.

Schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Texas that want to be added to the registry should call 919.220.8004 or email

for more information post a question or comment here or
contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.