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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Why Rural Matters

A while back I asked the question, What if rural mattered? We had a wonderful discussion about what the world and rural America would look like if that were true. But another question kept tugging at me. Why does rural America matter? So folks in our discussion tried to answer that question too. But, to me, it comes down to the people that live there.

Recently I was reading a publication about the Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture, awarded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.
The winners and others winning honorable mentions all seemed like outstanding people, the kind of folks you would love to have for neighbors. But one couple really stood out to me. The won an honorable mention in the Patrick Madden Award process in 2004.

The following is a description of Jim and Moie Crawford, of Hustontown, Pennsylvania, taken from the 2004 SARE booklet on the Patrick Madden Award winners. I hope you find the Crawfords as intriguing as I did. It is a smaller honor, no doubt, but I would like to offer Jim and Moie my own "Why rural matters" award.

Jim and Moie Crawford produce some 40 crops on 95 acres and market them though the successful cooperative they formed in 1988. While they had been farming organically for many years, the Crawfords had found that adequate profits eluded them. With four other southern Pennsylvania farmers, the formed the Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, now one of the most innovative and successful cooperatives in the country. Today, the cooperative is comprised of more than 20 producers. In one decade, sales increased tenfold, to more than $1 million in 2003.

On their own farm, the Crawfords pamper the soils with composted manure and mushroom soil from southeast Pennsylvania. The manure comes from their 250 hens, as well as from local chicken farms. The use a complex rotational system and beneficial insects to help manage psts and disease. The Crawfords run an organized apprentice program to help growers get started (more than 20 current farmers got their start at New Morning Farm), host field days for local growers and continue to work with the cooperative to promote sustainable growing practices and fair returns for produce.

If every success story in rural America included the Crawfords commitment to helping others get started doing what they do, imagine the impact that would have. Thank you Jim and Moie.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Strenthen Rural America Petition

Signatures are coming in (but we are still far short of 500). The response continues to be positive across the board. If you have not signed, do so today, then tell your friends and family, and distribute the link to the Strengthen Rural America Petition to your listserves and on Blogs that you frequent. Keep getting the word out! John

Strengthening Rural America Strengthens All of America!

America is strongest when all of its communities are strong and all of its people have access to genuine opportunity. Rural America is a valuable part of America. But today rural communities and rural people are not sharing in the nation’s prosperity. It is hurting all of America.

The Center for Rural Affairs is calling on rural Americans to join the thousands of people that are standing up and speaking out for rural America. Add your voice to the voices of thousands by signing the Center’s Rural Action Petition.

Sign the Strengthen Rural America Petition! –

Then, take another step and forward this e-mail to everyone you can think of – or your entire contact list.

The Center for Rural Affairs National Rural Action Network will deliver the petition signatures to your Senators and Representatives. We will also alert all who sign on when contacting their representative or taking other action will make a crucial difference on a rural issue before Congress.

With your help, the National Rural Action Network will grow to tens of thousands of people speaking out for Rural America, perhaps even more. Together, through the Rural Action Network, we will build the power necessary to take control of our destiny.

Sign the Strengthen Rural America Petition! –

And forward this e-mail to everyone you can.

- When rural young people are denied the opportunity to build homes, businesses, lives and careers, rural America contributes fewer taxes, fewer jobs and less productivity to America. To contribute to the nation’s prosperity, Rural America must share in it.

- When community is weakened, the bonds that make us strong are weakened. In strong communities we are more likely to help each other. To uplift rural values, we must lift up rural communities.

- The WalMarting of the American economy – the destruction of family farms and small business – is shrinking the rural middle class. People denied a stake in the American dream, are less likely to take responsibility for sustaining it.

Strengthening Rural America Strengthens All of America!

Congress Must Act Now to Revitalize Rural America!

There are practical strategies that work to revitalize rural communities. But local initiative must be matched by federal policies that support rural revitalization, rather than hinder it. The 2007 farm bill provides an opportunity to change course.

We do not have to choose between family farms and rural communities. The single most effective thing Congress can do to strengthen rural America is to cap farm payments and stop providing subsidies that mega farms use to drive smaller operations out of business

Capping payments to mega farms will save money that can be invested in initiatives that create a future for Rural America, including:

- Rural Entrepreneurship – traditional economic development based on industrial and business recruitment simply does not work for rural communities. Investment in entrepreneurial development based on small business does work, and counters out-migration as well as chronic economic hardship by creating economic opportunity.

- Rural Asset Building – match savings of lower income families in counties with chronic depopulation and allow money saved in these Individual Development Accounts to be used for starting a business, buying a home or obtaining higer education. These strategies help individuals and families build assets base that lift the veil of poverty and dependence on low-wage work, making rural communities stronger and more viable as opportunities are expanded and ownership extended to more rural people.

- Family Farm and Ranch Innovation – assist farmers and ranchers in pursuing new, high-value, consumer driven markets for their products, thereby creating enhanced economic opportunities in rural communities. Invest resources in innovative cooperatives and other ventures that increase the profitability and viability of family farms and ranches.

- Beginning Farmers and Ranchers – the future of agriculture depends on the next generation of family farmers and ranchers. And the viability of many rural businesses, schools and other community institutions also depends on new farmers and ranchers getting started. Invest in training, mentoring, linking, education and planning – invest in the future of family farming and ranching.

- Conservation – preserve land and water by rewarding farmers and ranchers for good stewardship on working lands.

Take Action Today!

Sign the Strengthen Rural America Petition! –

Forward this e-mail to your friends and family, or your entire contact list!

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Plowing the Hill

by Congressman Tim Holden
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development and Research of the House Agriculture Committee - posted on Plowing the Hill -

Today (March 30, 2006), the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Rural Development, and Research held a hearing to review rural development programs.

Our nation’s vibrant rural communities are full of opportunity. Strong rural communities are supported by individuals and businesses who are committed to their communities and who are active and willing participants in community efforts to undertake positive change.

However, the small size and remoteness of these rural communities can be major roadblocks in rural development efforts. So how do we overcome those factors in generating positive change in rural areas?

My home state of Pennsylvania has one of the largest rural populations in the nation, but only 18 percent of that population is employed in farming or farming-related jobs, a figure that is even lower across the nation. Farming may have once been the mainstay of most rural economies, but that is no longer the case. Rural development now means supporting services to communities that are extremely diverse.

USDA Rural Development plays a critical role in promoting economic development, supporting essential public facilities and services, and helping communities undertake community empowerment programs.

So, although rural development programs have become more important and there are so many needs across the country, I'm concerned that the Administration's budget for Fiscal Year 2007 would result in disproportionate cuts to rural development programs. We have seen less and less money provided for rural development programs during the past several budget cycles.

One major question we need to ask ourselves during the next Farm Bill is how do we protect crucial financial assistance to our rural communities?

If you would like to respond to Representative Holden's question you can by sending an
e-mail to with the subject line Plowing the Hill feedback.

or, as always, feel free to post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

P.S. Have you signed the Strenthen Rural America Petition yet? You can do so at - and encourage your friends to do the same.

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strenthen Rural America Petition

National Rural Action Network - Strenthen Rural America Petition

Endorse Petition for a Stronger Rural America

Strengthening Rural America, Strengthens all of America

America is strongest when all of its communities are strong and all of its people have access to genuine opportunity. Rural America is a valuable part of America. But today it’s not sharing in the nation’s prosperity. It’s hurting all of America.

When rural young people are denied opportunity to build businesses, lives and careers, rural America contributes fewer taxes fewer jobs and less productivity to America.

To contribute to the nation’s prosperity, Rural America must share in it.

Endorse the Strengthen Rural America Petition -

When community is weakened, the bonds that make us strong are weakened. In strong communities we’re more likely to help each other and less likely to focus on ourselves. To
uplift rural values, we must up lift rural communities.

The WalMarting of the American economy – the destruction of family farms and small business – is shrinking the rural middle class. People denied a stake in the American dream, are less likely to take responsibility for sustaining it. Strengthening the rural America strengthens all of America.

TAKE ACTION - TAKE ANOTHER STEP - TELL YOUR FRIENDS - forward this online petition to your friends, family... your e-mail contacts, your e-mails lists...anyone you can think of that cares about the future of rural America -

Our goal is to gather 10,000 signatures on the Strenthen Rural America Petition and present the signatures to members of Congress in August 2006. And we need you help to make it happen!

Congress Must Act Now for Rural America!

There are practical strategies that work, strategies to revitalize 21st century rural communities. But local initiatives must be matched by federal policies that support rural revitalization, rather than hinder it. The 2007 farm bill provides one vehicle to chart a new course.

The farm program should cap farm program payments to mega farms and invest the savings in initiatives that create a future for Rural America, including:

- Provide loans, technical assistance, and business training to help rural business thrive and enable rural people to start new businesses.
- Provide incentives to sell land to beginning farmers and support initiatives to link beginners with retiring farmers and provide training on accessing alternative markets.
- Provides grants to communities to nurture small business, develop new leaders, and engage youth and foster local philanthropy to support community development.
- Beef up the Value Added Producers Grants program to help farmers tap higher value markets and add value to their products, while prioritizing family size farms.
- Invest in conservation of land and water and reward farmers and ranchers for good stewardship.

We do not have to choose between family farms and rural development. The single most effective thing the farm bill could do to strengthen family farms is to stop subsidizing mega farms to drive smaller operations out of business by capping payments. And it saves money to invest in our future.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Try What Works

Try What Works

by John Crabtree,

That is what my father often said to me. As a teenager I was always looking for a quicker way to get my farm chores done so I could spend time with friends.

My shortcuts most often yielded inferior results and took longer. But I would keep at it, thinking that there was a silver bullet solution just around the corner. Eventually my father would come around and say kindly, “how about you try what works.”

As I observe rural people working to revitalize their communities, I am often reminded of what my father told me. Everyone knows of rural communities that are rising against the tide. Everyone knows of the opposite too.

Rural Americans know that revitalizing rural communities will take hard work. Some communities will rebuild one business, one storefront, even one person at a time. There are no silver bullets.

The next farm bill is an opportunity to change course, a way to move away from policies that undermine rural communities. But will we? Do we have the courage and strength of purpose?

If you are concerned about these questions, you are not alone. The Center for Rural Affairs is building a National Rural Action Network, gathering tens of thousands of rural people, just like you, standing up to demonstrate that we do have the courage and the strength. Become a part of the action by contacting me or signing up at As my father might say, “how about we get together and try what works.”

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Building Hope in Rural Colorado

Building Hope in Rural Colorado

by Jon Bailey, Center for Rural Affairs

Guest Commentary that appeared in the Denver Post on April 16, 2006

Rural Colorado needs more jobs and businesses for its future, especially in counties that face chronic population loss. There is a proposal that could create nearly 1,100 new businesses and several thousand new jobs in the 11 Colorado counties that have lost 10 percent or more of their population over the past 20 years. Senators Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. and Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar have proposed the New Homestead Act, a legislative menu of incentives and policies to address rural depopulation.

One crucial provision of the bill would create Individual Homestead Accounts (IHAs), savings accounts (generally matched with public funds) that would allow tax-free withdrawals for specified purposes. Allowable uses include unreimbursed medical expenses; first-time home purchases; business development costs; and college expenses.

Any resident of a qualifying county would be allowed to create an IHA. Federal matching funds would be deposited into IHAs on a sliding scale based on income.

The Center for Rural Affairs has published a report - Building Wealth in Rural Communities: The New Homestead Act and Individual Homestead Accounts - examining the potential impact of the act on rural communities. Based on 2000 Census data, we estimate that more than 23,288 rural Colorado households would qualify for IHA matching funds.

Most of the New Homestead Act counties would qualify because they lack economic opportunity, leading to a downward spiral of decreasing population and declining economic activity. Individual Homestead Accounts have the potential to break this cycle by helping residents and newcomers in qualifying counties expand or create small businesses and jobs, purchase homes and obtain more education.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship are major factors in rural economic development. Entrepreneurship is the best option rural people have to create economic opportunities and jobs and counteract the decline in rural manufacturing and agricultural employment. IHAs would offer another economic development tool to promote rural entrepreneurship.

We estimate that nationwide, more than 153,000 businesses would be expanded or created and more than 268,000 jobs would be created in rural communities nationwide, and nearly 1,100 businesses in rural Colorado.

All states with qualifying counties would benefit from the IHA provision by creating jobs and businesses and enhancing local economic opportunities. And urban areas of states with New Homestead Act counties would benefit from a stronger rural economy.

While the Individual Homestead Account provision would benefit many rural people and communities, some minor changes would make the program stronger.

For example, home rehabilitation, renovation, and repair as well as home purchases for those who are not first-time home buyers should be allowable uses. And health insurance premiums should be "qualified medical expenses" to help the rural uninsured.

Moreover, business technical assistance and business planning should be qualified business costs. IHAs should be focused on helping more people in rural communities own and operate businesses and on providing a path for the success of those individuals and businesses.

The New Homestead Act has been introduced in Congress several times but has not yet become law. Coloradans who hope for and believe in a better future for their rural communities and state should urge their members of Congress to support the act.

Depopulation in many rural communities is tied to diminishing economic opportunities in rural America. Individual Homestead Accounts and the New Homestead Act offer a vision for creating true, nationwide ownership and opportunity society.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Working Out the Kinks

Working Out the Kinks

By Elisha Greeley Smith,, Center for Rural Affairs

Jan McNichols from O’Neill, Nebraska was honored this year at the Center for Rural Affairs annual gathering. Jan took home the Rural Enterprise Assistance Program (REAP) Small Business of the Year Award.

Her road to success was not always a smooth one.

In 2001, after working on a cattle ranch for over 20 years as a veterinary assistant, she had to make a career change and decided to go to massage therapy school.

She graduated from massage therapy school and in the fall of 2002 and thereafter her business, “The Emerald Spa”, was opened. REAP assisted with a business plan and micro-loan to get the spa started.

In 2003 Jan was diagnosed with leukemia forcing the closure of her business while she underwent treatments. In 2005 she decided to reopen the business. Securing a new business location was assisted by REAP through the Women and Company Microenterprise Boost Program. To improve her newly opened business, Jan added a wet room for hydrotherapy body work, body polishes, and herbal wraps.

Jan noted that the greatest challenge in this business is educating clients on the health benefits and what massage therapy can do for them. The greatest reward is being able to help clients with chronic problems. It’s great to have them realize results!

Jan feels there was a correlation in her career change between her interest in using non-invasive ultra sound techniques in the livestock industry and learning massage therapy for humans as an alternative medical treatment.

Jan is a dedicated and courageous entrepreneur who provides big city luxuries, but in small town America. She epitomizes the persistence, work ethic, imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of so many rural entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Renew Your Center Newsletter Today!

Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter

Please Renew Today!

Spring is a time of renewal, and that is true for the Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter. If you haven’t yet, please let us know you want to keep receiving the newsletter. We gratefully accept donations to help keep the newsletter coming.

Your contribution automatically renews your newsletter subscription. You can donate online at (just clink on the Dontate Now button) or by mailing a check to the Center. Even if you can’t donate, we still need your voice. Call or email us today: 402.687.2100 or

If you have not yet subscribed to the Center for Rural Affairs newsletter, you can do so by donating or by simply filling out the subscription form at by clicking on the "Subscribe to Newsletter" link just below the Donate Now button.

Lastly, if you have any difficulty subscribing, simply send me an e-mail with you name, address and phone number and I can make sure you begin receiving the Center's hard-hitting newsletter ASAP.

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

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Center for Rural Affairs - Nebraska Gubernatorial Rural Forum

KEARNEY, NE (2006-02-28) Republican Congressman Tom Osborne, Republican businessman Dave Nabity, and Democratic businessman and attorney David Hahn came to Kearney on Saturday to take part in a candidate forum on rural issues, sponsored by the Center for Rural Affairs. Governor Dave Heineman was also invited but declined to attend, citing a scheduling conflict. The 90 minute program was moderated by NET Radio reporter Sarah McCammon, who prepared the questions with input from the Center for Rural Affairs and other farm groups.

To hear a podcast of this 90 minute program go to:

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Nebraska Unicameral Adjourns


April 17, 2006

Legislature Adjourns

The Legislature concluded its 2006 session and adjourned at 5:54 pm on April 13. This also represented the end of public service in the Legislature for 20 Senators due to term limits.

Big Issues Update

The Legislature spent most of its last week debating LB 1024, the Omaha school bill. On its last day, the Legislature approved LB 1024 on Final Reading by a 31-16 vote. The Governor signed the bill into law.

The provision of LB 1024 that received most attention was the division of the Omaha Public School district into three separate districts based on current attendance patterns. The bill also includes a state aid stabilization factor for school districts with declining enrollments that have property tax levies at or below 99 cents; this will apply primarily to rural schools, and is estimated to provide an additional $2 million in state aid to rural schools in its first year of implementation.

Most provisions of LB 1024 do not take effect until 2008. Several Senators asserted this will force OPS and its neighbors to discuss the issues with a deadline facing them, thus allowing them to resolve the issues before LB 1024 takes effect and then allowing the Legislature to change LB 1024. It’s important to recognize, however, that any agreement reached by OPS and the neighboring school districts must now also meet the approval of the Legislature.

The Legislature also voted on April 12 to impeach University of Nebraska regent David Hergert. The vote to impeach was 25-22. The Nebraska Supreme Court will now try the matter similar to a civil trial. Two-thirds of the justices must vote to convict Hergert for him to be removed from office. Upon the vote of the Legislature to impeach, Hergert was suspended from his duties as Regent until the Supreme Court acts.

Bills Update

All pending bills not disposed of by becoming law were Indefinitely Postponed (killed) on April 13 just before the final motion to adjourn. One bill on our weekly list did receive action in the last week of the session.


LB 990P (Wehrbein and others) – Created tax credits for livestock modernization projects under the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act and amended the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act. On April 11, the Governor signed the bill into law.

Next Week

Legislative action and news does not end with adjournment of the session. Next week we will provide news on important and relevant Interim Study Resolutions introduced in the final days of the session and a list of candidates for legislative seats in the May 9 primary.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Justice Alito Rejects Appeal of Nebraska Small School Merger Law

Justice Alito rejects appeal on small school merger law Justice Alito rejects appeal on small school merger law

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito refused Tuesday to block a law requiring Nebraska's smallest schools to merge with larger districts.

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg filed an appeal last month on behalf of the schools arguing that the law requiring the elementary only — or Class I — districts to merge with larger, K-12 districts by June 15 was unconstitutional.

He asked Alito for an injunction until the court decides whether it will hear the case, "In the absence of an injunction enjoining the orders dissolving 205 Class I school districts, the questions presented ... will be moot before the court can consider the case on its merits," Stenberg wrote.

Alito rejected the request without comment.

"It does not mean this is over," Stenberg said. "We may refile our request for an injunction if the court agrees to take the case."

Last month, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a judge was wrong to put on hold the state law that calls for the mergers.

The Nebraska high court ruled in a case challenging a law (LB126) passed last year over Gov. Dave Heineman's veto.

Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, chairman of the Legislature's Education Committee, hailed Alito's ruling.

"The statute and arguments have been scrutinized very carefully and continue to survive that scrutiny," he said.

In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Stenberg argued that closing the schools before voters weigh in would be "akin to executing a convicted murderer before his appeal is decided or destroying subpoenaed evidence before it can be presented to the court.

"There are very few questions presented to this court that are more important than federal constitutional questions concerning the right to vote," Stenberg added. "If in fact the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States does not protect the right to vote in initiative and referendum elections, then the door is open for state legislatures hostile to the initiative and referendum process to effectively deny people the right to vote," Stenberg said.

But the Nebraska high court cited the state Constitution, which says "an act of the Legislature shall be suspended only in the event that a referendum petition is signed by `not less than ten percent of the registered voters.' "

"In this case, there is no dispute that plaintiffs collected the signatures of only a little more than 7.7 percent of the registered voters in Nebraska," Chief Justice John Hendry said. "Under such circumstance, to suspend 'the taking effect' of LB126 pending the referendum vote would require this court to ignore the will of the people as clearly expressed in the state Constitution. This we will not do."

The state court also declined to weigh in on Stenberg's contention that the merger law illustrates a need to change the referendum process.

Merger proponents say that having K-12 districts statewide will save money and provide a more equitable education to all students.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Federal Jury Breathes Life into Packers and Stockyards Act

Federal Jury Finds Nation's Three Largest Beef Packers Liable for Violating Packers and Stockyards Act

A federal jury in Aberdeen, South Dakota today found the nation’s three largest beef packers liable to cattle producers for violating the federal Packers and Stockyards Act.

The class action lawsuit arose out of the misreporting of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) boxed beef prices between April 2, 2001 and May 11, 2001. The 8-person jury unanimously found that Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., (formerly IBP, inc.); Cargill Meat Solutions, (d/b/a Excel Corp.); and Swift Company (formerly Conagra Corp.) engaged in conduct during this period that had the purpose or effect of controlling or manipulating fed cattle prices.

The jury found that the three packers knew of the reporting error before it was made public and that their conduct during the period had the purpose or effect of injuring competition in the fed cattle market. The jury determined total monetary damages to all cattle producers who sold to the three packers during the period of the error to be $9.25 million, of which $4 million was attributed to Tyson, $3 million to Cargill, and $2.25 million to Swift. The smallest of the four packers originally sued, National Beef Packing Co., L.P., was found not liable.

Herman Schumacher of Herreid, South Dakota, one of the three plaintiffs who represented the class of cattle producers who sold during the period, hailed the jury verdict as "a victory for struggling cattle producers nationwide against the unlawful practices of the big packing companies." He added: "The packers for years have acted to crush competition and squeeze the small cattle producer to maximize packer profits. We are pleased that a jury of everyday citizens has held the packers accountable for their unlawful activities in this case." The jury trial lasted approximately two weeks. Separate court proceedings will now follow to permit individual cattle producers to recover the amounts of money they are owed as a result of the verdict.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Solutions from Within

Solutions from Within

By John Crabtree,

Solutions to rural America’s challenges will come from rural communities; not from Washington and Wall Street.

Then why does the Center for Rural Affairs speak out about federal investment in rural America?

Because there will be another farm bill, commodity program, rural development title and continued debate about the future of rural America. Therefore, it is crucial that the next farm bill support what works in rural communities.

Rural Americans know that some things work and some do not. Rural folks tell me about local efforts that are making a real difference and creating economic opportunity.

Unlimited farm program payments artificially inflate land costs and effectively bar beginning farmers and ranchers from getting started. Economic development programs squander resources on industrial recruitment; subsidizing large, established corporations that have no need for assistance. Recruited industries often undermine local efforts by using their size and market power to drive out rural mainstreet businesses.

The Center has called for an historic commitment to rural entrepreneurship, agricultural innovation and asset-based development in the next farm bill. This is not a “feel-good” commitment to locally owned businesses, farms and ranches. In the rural Midwest and Great Plains, nearly 70 percent of job growth in the 1990s came from people starting small businesses. In other words, microenterprise development is the heaviest hitter in the rural development lineup.

The intellect, work ethic, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit of rural Americans are our greatest assets and the reason we know rural challenges will be met, and overcome, from within.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Supreme Court Justice Questions Nebraska's School Consolidation Law

U.S. Supreme Court Justice asks Nebraska about LB 126, the states forced consolidation law

from our friends at Nebraskans for Local Schools and
Class Ones United

George Lauby (Nebraskans for Local Schools) - 308-325-2315
Mike Nolles (Class Ones United) – 402-244-5473

A U.S. Supreme Court justice is asking questions about the legality of the Class I school mergers in Nebraska.

On April 4, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. asked the State of Nebraska to say why the implementation of LB 126 should not be suspended.

Class I supporters, through their attorney Don Stenberg, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case after the Nebraska Supreme Court did not suspend the bill.

“This is a very important development,” Stenberg said. “It shows that the court is giving serious consideration to granting an injunction which would preserve the right of Nebraska voters to decide the future of Class I schools at the Nov. 7 election.”

The constitutional right to a valid referendum vote is jeopardized, the plaintiffs say, because LB 126 is being implemented even though a referendum vote will be held in November.
The state is to respond in writing to Alito’s request by Monday.

Stenberg represents individuals and Class I school districts that will be dissolved under LB 126. LB 126 was passed in June by the Legislature over Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto.

The law calls for the merger of Class I districts with K-12 districts. It takes effect June 15, 2006, eliminating 200 Class I school districts.

Alito oversees the 8th U.S. Circuit -- which includes Nebraska -- at the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices can make such requests without conferring with colleagues. If he finds merit in an injunction Alito could issue it on his own, or jointly with other justices. That action could come within two weeks. Opponents of LB126 successfully challenged the law in Lancaster County District Court last year. Judge Paul Merritt ruled implementing the complex school reorganization decision before the November election would irreparably harm voters’ rights.

The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed Merrit’s ruling March 3, saying the high court would not trump a Constitutional requirement for 10 percent of voters to sign a referendum petition to suspend a law (the petitioners obtained 7.7 percent).

However, in its ruling, the Nebraska Supreme Court did not comment on the potential damage to voters’ rights and the referendum election process.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, April 10, 2006

National Animal ID System - Update

National Animal ID System Update

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns continues to indicate that USDA's move toward a private, industry lead National Animal ID System will continue, despite considerable opposition from farmers, ranchers and some of their organizations.

Authorities trying to limit disease outbreaks hope to be able to trace livestock movements from birth to slaughter by 2009, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Thursday.

The goal is to pinpoint a single animal's movements among the nation's 9 billion cows, pigs and chickens within 48 hours after a disease is discovered.

Many livestock producers have been wary of a tracking system, which the government promised to create after the nation's first case of mad cow disease two years ago in Washington state.

Johanns pointed out that Australia has gained an edge in Japan and other countries by marketing its livestock tracking system to sell beef.

"Traceability is being used as a marketing tool by several countries," Johanns said.
Japan banned American beef after the first case of mad cow and blocked shipments again in January when inspectors found prohibited cuts of veal. Japan was a $1.4 billion market for U.S. beef in 2003.

For nearly a year, 2009 has been Johanns' goal, but he made it official Thursday.

The department has shifted gears on other parts of the animal identification system. Johanns said last May it would be government-run. Now, Johanns is letting industry groups create their own tracking systems, so long as state and federal authorities are able to tap into the systems when needed.

This is a dramatic departure from earlier indications from USDA, including an admission earlier this year that the agency may lack the statutory authority to implement a mandatory system that is administered by private entities.

The goal is for all ranches, feed lots, sale barns, packing plants and other facilities to be registered, and all recently born animals assigned numbers by 2009, said the department's chief veterinarian, John Clifford. Clifford said about 10 percent of the nation's 2 million premises have registered so far.

Still in question is whether or when it will become mandatory for U.S. producers to register and report the movements of cattle, hogs and poultry. Johanns has said the system probably will have to be mandatory.

"As we hit those benchmarks, we'll evaluate how we're doing, and that will really be what drives our next decision, as to when and if we need to look at ... the mandatory approach," Johanns said. "My hope is that the industry responds to see the competitive issues involved here."

The department has spent about $84 million on the system so far, including awards to states and American Indian tribes for developing ID programs.

The medical name for mad cow disease, a brain-wasting ailment, is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

In people, eating meat products contaminated with BSE is linked to more than 150 deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain, from a deadly human nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

This article was compiled from a number of USDA news releases and other sources.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Center Joins Legal Fight Over Corporate Farming Law

Center for Rural Affairs Joins Legal Fight over I-300

Today, the Center for Rural Affairs joined six organizations and the Nebraska Catholic Conference in filing an amicus curiae, or, “friend of the court” brief in support of the state of Nebraska’s appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals of Federal District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp’s decision on December 15th, 2005 striking down Initiative 300, Nebraska’s constitutional prohibition of corporate farming.

In addition to the Center for Rural Affairs and the Nebraska Catholic Conference, Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraska Grange, Women Involved in Farm Economics, American Corn Growers of Nebraska and Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest were also co-signatories on the court brief supporting Initiative 300.

Attorney General Jon Bruning, in for the appeal argued that, “The district court went far beyond the language of Initiative 300, the explanatory statement, and the ballot title in reaching the conclusion of unconstitutionality.”

“Numerous briefs supporting Initiative 300 have been filed from all over the country and this demonstrates the strong state and national support for I-300. This is not just about corporate farming in Nebraska – it’s also about the rights of states to chart their own economic course, it’s about environmental responsibility, it’s about protection of a beneficial economic and social structure,” said John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs."

If the appeal is successful, the case could be sent back to Omaha for trial. Smith-Camp’s ruling was a summary judgment made prior hearing evidence on the facts of the case.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced in January that a three judge panel in St. Louis will hear arguments on the case. In 1982, by a vote of the people, the constitution of Nebraska was amended to include a provision that prohibited corporate farming, with crucial exceptions for family farm and ranch corporations. That provision has been commonly known by its ballot number, Initiative 300.

The appeal is a result of a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Laurie Smith Camp that Initiative 300 violates the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nebraska Unicameral - Special Legislative Update


April 6, 2006

Governor Issues Budget Vetoes

Late Monday Governor Heineman issued nearly $23 million worth of line-item vetoes to LB 1060, the main budget bill. The Governor’s vetoes included:

Over $5 million for increased utility costs at the University, state colleges, Nebraska Educational Telecommunications and the state capitol building. The Governor stated that it was not clear the appropriated amount would be needed and that it is not clear yet what the actual amount of increased utility costs will be.

Over $2.7 million for the Children’s Health Insurance Program; the Governor’s veto message simply said an analysis showed the total CHIP appropriation in LB 1060 was “not necessary.”

Over $400,000 for the state’s five Qualified Community Health Centers; this amount was appropriated in LB 1060 as additional funding to that approved in the biennial budget during the 2005 session.

Nearly $750,000 in additional funding for community college aid (one-half of the LB 1060 appropriation); this amount was divide between the state aid to community college fund ($564,000) and the community collage property tax relief/equalization fund ($184,000). The LB 1060 appropriation was meant to reduce property tax levies for community colleges by substituting state aid.

A reduction of $1.375 million appropriated in LB 1060 to implement community corrections services.

The $1.2 million increase in funding for the Nebraska Scholarship Program.

A total of $125,000, representing the appropriated funding increase for the Commission for Blind and Visually Impaired. This amount represented state funds to off-set reduced federal funds for the Commission.

Cut the $2 million appropriation for the Cultural Preservation Endowment Fund. The Governor expressed his support of the arts, but “other critical needs facing the State of Nebraska must take priority.”

Earlier today, the Appropriations Committee met to determine which, if any, vetoes to recommend for an override by the Legislature. The Committee recommended (by a 5-3 vote) an override on only one item – half of the amount vetoed by the Governor for support of the Qualified Community Health Centers. The committee recommendation comes to $218,750 of the nearly $23 million vetoed. This recommendation will be considered by the Legislature on April 6; it will take 30 votes to override the veto. Individual Senators may also propose override attempts.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Nebraska Unicameral Update

Nebraska Legislative Update
April 4, 2006

Budget Bill

On March 28, the Legislature gave 41-7 Final Reading approval to LB 1060, the main budget bill. Senators Erdman, Foley, Friend, Langemeier, Mines, Redfield and Smith voted “No” (Speaker Brashear did not vote).

The bill now goes to the Governor for his action. He has until midnight April 3 to sign the bill, veto it or issue line-item vetoes of specific items.

Before the final vote, Sen. Pederson, chair of the Appropriations Committee, warned the Senators to be careful with their spending in the waning days of the session or else face a budget crisis. LB 1060 leaves about $117 million for tax relief and any other new spending. However, the tax relief in LB 968 and spending at various stages of legislative debate total about $133 million.

Tax Bill Receives Final Approval

On April 3, the Legislature gave 42-2 Final Reading approval to LB 968, the Revenue Committee’s package of tax cuts. Senators Kopplin and Kruse cast the “No” votes. Again, Governor Heineman has five days to take action, but is expected to sign the bill.

Clock Still Ticking … Big Issues Still Remain

The Legislature did begin to move on two big issues at the end of last week. It remains to be seen if enough time remains in the session to finish that action.

The Education Committee advanced LB 1024 to the floor on a 6-2 vote last week. This is the bill that will serve as the vehicle for debate on the Omaha public school issue. LB 1024 would create a “Learning Community” in the Omaha metropolitan area (this would apply only to Douglas and Sarpy Counties, but other counties can institute the “learning community” idea if all school districts in a county participate and have at least 2,000 students). School district boundaries would not change, but the “learning community” would be a new type of educational service unit using a single tax base to fund schools in the area.

Last week the Legislature’s Executive Board ordered that articles of impeachment against University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert be drafted for consideration by the entire Legislature. Sen. Engle, chair of the Executive Board, said the articles of impeachment would be brought before the Legislature sometime before the session is adjourned. The Executive Board appointed a committee to draft the articles.

Legislative Lingo

Throughout the course of these updates, we will be using certain terms that describe where a bill is in the legislative process. Here is a brief guide to those terms and some basic legislative procedure:

Committees have a number of options for each bill – send as introduced to the full Legislature for General File, send to General File with amendments, Indefinitely Postpone (or kill) the bill, or hold the bill over to the 2006 session .
Once a bill is sent to the full Legislature out of committee, it faces three possible stages – General File, Select File and Final Reading.
At the General File and Select File stages a bill can be amended; a bill cannot be amended at the Final Reading stage.

As bills are killed in committee or become law through floor stages, they will be deleted from the Legislative Update.

Bills Update

As in the past, we will divide into categories the bills we are working on or tracking. Any bill designated a Priority Bill will also have a “P” attached to its number (for example, LB 123P). The chief sponsor of the bill is listed in parentheses.

The words Support or Oppose after a bill description indicate where the Center for Rural Affairs has taken a position on the bill. If neither word is indicated, the Center has not taken a position at this time.

Based on further analysis and Priority Bill designations, this week we’ve added a few bills to our list.


LB 132 (Cunningham) –This bill modifies the Nebraska Pasteurized Milk Law. The bill sits on General File. Support
LB 346P (Agriculture Committee) – Would modify several provisions of the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act all with the goal to increase utilization of the tax credit. The bill sits on General File, but was amended into LB 990 and approved on Select File. Support
LB 834 (Kremer) – Would preempt any local government action to regulate the registration, labeling or sale of seed based on the “type, nature or genetic makeup.” The bill awaits action on General File. Oppose
LB 916 (Kremer) – Would implement the state Competitive Livestock Markets Act (passed by the Legislature in 1995) in the event the federal mandatory price reporting law is not re-authorized by Congress. The bill awaits action on General File. Support.
LB 990P (Wehrbein and others) – Would allow tax credits for livestock modernization projects under the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act. On March 27, the bill was advanced to Final Reading on a voice vote.
LB 1004 (Hudkins) – Would allow for promotion of Nebraska-made wine and liquor by allowing holders of farm winery licenses to obtain a special license to sell or consume alcohol. The bill awaits action on General File.
LB 1109 (Schrock) – Would modify rules for the rejection, suspension or revocation of livestock waste permits. The bill awaits action on General File.
LB 1195 (Schrock and others) – Would require counties to allow permits or variances to existing livestock facilities to construct or modify livestock waste facilities if the purpose of the permit or variance is to comply with state or federal regulations. The bill awaits action on General File (though it is unlikely to receive further attention since a similar provision was amended into LB 975, which was signed into law).


Note: Several mentions are made below to LB 126 – a reminder this was the bill passed by the Legislature, vetoed by the Governor and overridden by the Legislature in 2005 that requires all Class I (elementary-only) school districts to assimilate with a K-12 district. A citizen’s petition seeking the repeal of LB 126 will be on the November 2006 General Election ballot.

LB 129P (Education Committee) – An overhaul of the formula for state aid to schools. The bill is awaiting action in the Education Committee.
LB 839 (Hudkins) – Would order the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts to issue orders reestablishing Class I and Class VI (high school-only) districts if 2005’s LB 126 is repealed in November. The bill awaits action by the Education Committee. Support
LB 1050 (Wehrbein) – Would establish a study committee on the costs and benefits of countywide school districts. The bill awaits action by the Education Committee.
LB 1119 (Heidemann and others) – Would delay all provisions of LB 126 until 2007. The bill awaits action by the Education Committee. Support
LR 253CA (Hudkins and Fischer) – A proposed constitutional amendment that would require a vote of the people in affected districts on school mergers, dissolutions or affiliations. This is similar to a petition proposed by a group of Class I supporters for which signatures are being sought. The bill awaits action by the Education Committee. Support


LB 775 (Wehrbein) – Would reduce the sales tax rate to 5% after October 1, 2006 (from 5.5%). The bill was Indefinitely Postponed by the Revenue Committee on March 27.
LB 849 (Redfield and others) – This is the Governor’s income tax reduction proposal. The bill was Indefinitely Postponed by the Revenue Committee on March 27.
LB 896 (Preister) – Would establish a renewable energy tax credit against the income tax of the producer of electricity by renewable means. The bill awaits action on General File.
LB 968P (Redfield) – This is now the Revenue Committee’s tax relief proposal. The bill was approved on Final Reading on April 3 (see above).
LB 1006P (Bourne and others) – This bill was originally the Governor’s school property tax levy proposal; a similar provision is included in LB 968. The bill was amended to a constitutional amendment to use the proceeds of the sale of school lands for early childhood education.
LB 1239 (Raikes) – An income tax “simplification” plan. Would collapse income tax brackets into two rather than four – above and below $75,000 for estates and trusts and single and married filing separate taxpayers, and above and below $150,000 for joint and head-of-household taxpayers. The bill was Indefinitely Postponed by the Revenue Committee on March 27.


LB 188P (Beutler) – Modifications to the Nebraska Campaign Finance Limitation Act. On April 3, the bill was approved 30-10 on Final Reading. It now awaits action by the Govenor. Support
LB 554P (Beutler) – Would increase the state minimum wage. The bill was debated on March 29, but no action was taken. The bill awaits action on General File.
LB 1198 (Connealy) – Would authorize on-farm sales and use of biofuels by adding “microscale producer” to the definition of “producer” in existing motor fuels laws. The bill awaits action on General File. Support

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Getting Help on the Ground - Persistence Pays

Getting Help on the Ground: Persistence Pays for Farmers and Ranchers

Getting help on the ground with your farm and ranch business often means navigating the brambles of state and federal agencies. Kim Leval, Center for Rural Affairs Senior Policy Analyst based in Oregon, specializes in advocating for the USDA Value Added Producer Grant program, among other things. Kim says, “I’ve learned a thing or two about where to find help while assisting people who want to enter new markets, expand their on farm value added processing capacity, or market directly at farmers’ markets.” Kim shares her insights below.

USDA has on the ground state staff to help you with marketing, farmer and rancher loan programs, and rural development programs like the Value Added Producer Grant program that assist with new marketing ideas. These offices can be found in the white government pages of your local phone book under USDA. The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) is a powerful information source. On any given day their information requests might include a Texas rancher wanting to know if he can boost pounds of beef per acre with rotational grazing, or an organic farmer in Iowa who needs sources for canola seed.

They have a toll free number (800.346.9140) you can call and inquire about your particular business idea or production problem. Their team of specialists provides information free of charge, and you get to talk to a real person on the phone. They then research and develop a packet of information and resources just for you.

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is a grant program with staff in each of four regions of the country (Northeast, Southern, North Central, and Western). There are grants for farmers who wish to seek answers to their production problems via on farm research.

SARE also grants research and education and professional development grants for extension agents and others who wish to learn more about applying sustainable agriculture production or marketing approaches in farming and ranching operations. Check out the SARE website for grant deadlines and information in your area at: .

Almost every state has a State Department of Agriculture. This state agency often works with staff of federal agencies that are on the ground. For example, the Oregon Department of Agriculture staff put together a list of resource people who can assist farmers and ranchers with information and grant proposals for the Value Added Producer Grant program and other state and federal funding sources.

If you have difficulty accessing state or federal program staff and programs in your state, I suggest you contact your Governor’s office or the members of your Congressional delegation (senators and representatives). Often they have staff assigned the duty of helping state citizens access federal programs. I’ve learned that many state and federal employees have way more programs to administer than they have time or resources. So, they may not have worked with a particular program enough to know all the ins and outs and regulations. Or they may only be familiar with certain types of agriculture practices. If you want to do something a little “differently” you may also have to find a person open to hearing you.

If that is the case the members of your delegation and their staff can be very helpful in finding the person or department at the state or federal level (often located in Washington DC) that can help with a bottleneck at the state level. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, understanding your rights to contact those at the federal or state level can often make all the difference, not only for your own success but for the success of that program nationwide. Every state and location is unique, but there are similar programs that can help you no matter where you live. Some examples are your land grant colleges (state agricultural schools) and your state Cooperative Extension staff, small farm programs, or rural development centers across the country.

Visit: for more information on the rural development centers.

Resource Conservation and Development Districts (RC&Ds) are funded by USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS). I’ve been on the board of the Cascade Pacific RC&D in Oregon for several years. We hope to grow processing and marketing capacity and help small/mid-size livestock producers in a six county area.

Our RC&D staff also helps with watershed projects, provides information for growers and landowners on the Conservation Security Program and assists rural people in finding creative avenues and funding to bring projects to fruition.

Check out for more information on the RC&Ds in your area.

If you need help in figuring out how to get help in your state, call Kim Leval at 541.687.1490 or email her at . Remember, persistence pays off

post a question or comment or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Building Hope in Rural Communities

Building Hope in Rural Communities

By John Crabtree,, Center for Rural Affairs

The depopulation, poverty and low-wage employment facing many rural communities are caused by a lack of opportunity. Creating a future for those communities requires that we commit to fostering opportunity through the building of assets and wealth.

Asset building strategies have both individual and community benefits. Individuals and families build an asset base that lifts the veil of poverty and dependence on low-wage work. Communities become stronger and more viable as opportunities and ownership are expanded to a wider group of people.

The rural development title of the 2007 farm bill should include the Individual Homestead Account provision of the New Homestead Act. Individual Homestead Accounts (IHA) – like Individual Development Accounts employed primarily in urban settings – are matched savings accounts (generally with public funds) that allow tax-free withdrawals to cover costs of developing a small business, obtaining higher education and first-time home purchases

Center for Rural Affairs’ research demonstrates that IHAs could create over 150,000 businesses and over 260,000 jobs in 698 New Homestead Act counties 38 states; counties that have experienced the economic stress of 10 percent or more population loss over the past 20 years and are most in need of hope and opportunity.

The next farm bill presents an opportunity to fundamentally shift rural policy from federal farm and commodity programs that are intended only to prop up the failed farm policies of the past, to farm and rural development policies that invest in the faith, hard work, innovation and entrepreneurship of America’s rural people and places.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.