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, June 30, 2006

Center Opposes Misguided Constitutional Amendment

Center for Rural Affairs Opposes Misleading, Misguided “SOS” Spending Lid Petition

Lyons, Nebraska – Today the Center for Rural Affairs announced that they will join the Nebraskans for the Good Life Coalition in opposing the “SOS” spending lid petition. The petition seeks to amend the Nebraska constitution to limit appropriations by the Nebraska Legislature. The Center also released an analysis of the most onerous provisions of the proposed amendment.

“Had this proposed change to the constitution been in place over the last 10 years it could have shifted nearly a billion dollars, $831 million, onto the backs of family farmers, ranchers and rural taxpayers as well as their urban neighbors in the form of increased property taxes,” said Jon Bailey, Rural Research and Analysis Program Director at the Center for Rural Affairs.

“Increasing property taxes in this way would be a significant drain on the economy of the communities that are facing the sternest economic challenges in Nebraska. And replacing that $831 million in state aid to local governments would have meant mounting property taxes, slashed local services and struggling schools. Quite simply, this would be very bad public policy,” added Bailey.

According to the Center’s analysis, any decreases in aid to local governments would mean local officials would be faced with the difficult choice of slashing local services or raising taxes on homes and agricultural land. The ability of many local units of government to absorb decreases in state aid without significant cut-backs in services is also questionable given that state mandated spending limits and property tax levy limits already exist on most units of local government.

The Center is urging Nebraskans to refuse to sign the petition, which they say is misleading and will ultimately lead to rapidly rising property taxes, closed schools, diminished public services and economic decline in many communities, particularly Nebraska’s rural communities.

“This petition was filed by well healed out of state interests paying circulators $2.50 for every signature. The petition process should be for grassroots initiatives, not for out of state interests to buy their way on to the ballot. Don’t fall for it. If approached tell them no and ask the circulator to stop pushing a proposal that will undermine our future and raise property taxes. Please ask your friends and neighbors to do the same,” urged Bailey.

To read the Center’s analysis in its entirety go to . Also, anyone wishing to remove their name from the petition can find instructions and documents necessary to do so at .

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don't Sign Away a Fair Tax System

Don’t Sign Away a Fair Tax System

by Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs,

Out of state interests are circulating misleading petitions that will ultimately raise property taxes, close schools and damage public services. Please don’t sign it.

The proposal to cap state spending would simply force spending off of sales and income taxes down to more local units of government and on to property taxes, the most burdensome tax. Local officials would be faced with the choice of slashing local services or raising taxes on homes and agricultural land.

The petition was filed by well healed out of state interests paying circulators $2.50 for every signature. If they can get the signatures, they can then buy the vote through an expensive barrage of big money advertising.

Don’t fall for it. The petition process should be for grassroots initiatives, not for out of state interests to buy their way on to the ballot. If approached tell them no and ask the circulator to stop pushing a proposal that will undermine our future and raise property taxes. Please urge your friends and neighbors to do the same.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs

Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Congress Grows Kinder to Value-Added Agriculture

Congress Grows Kinder to Value-Added Agriculture

by John Crabtree, Center for Rural Affairs,

In inexplicably good news from Washington, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to provide a total of $48 million for USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grants. This is the second year in a row that one house of Congress provided more than was authorized by the farm bill, though last year it was the House rather than the Senate taking.

Spending bills during tight budgetary times can be politically sensitive, so many believe that the process may not be completed until the lame duck session after the election. We hope that proves untrue. In fact, the political sensitivity of election season is a time when rural Americans have an even better chance of standing up for the future of rural America and being heard.

There was a time when, nearly every year, one house of Congress would cut Value-Added Grants to the bone and supporters of the grants would have to work tirelessly to restore funding in the other chamber, and then work tirelessly again to maintain that funding in the House-Senate Conference Committee.

Value-Added Producer Grants have steadily gained popularity, however, because they invest in farmers and ranchers who are tapping into high value markets, or creating new markets, that pay them a premium. And the businesses they form often create decent paying jobs in their rural communities.

Value-Added Producer Grants are the best investment in rural entrepreneurship the federal government makes. We would all do well to let our elected officials know that we support this effort.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Get It Fresh at a Farmers Market

Get it Fresh at a Farmers Market

By Elisha Greeley Smith,, Center for Rural Affairs

’Tis the season for getting wonderful, locally grown produce! Chances are there is a Farmers Market in your community.

Farmers Markets are a great way to get fresh, healthy and tasty produce. Plus you’ll be supporting local farmers and gardeners.

Besides quality in freshness and flavor, some other benefits of buying produce at Farmers Markets are the variety and availability of produce not often found in supermarkets, and the fact that you’re buying directly from the producer. Shoppers can be confident in the origin of their food, ask questions, and get closer to the sources of local foods. Shoppers can try things they’ve never had before and the farmer is usually willing to share recipes for their products.

Since the produce is picked at the peak of the season, nutrients, and phytochemicals (beta carotene, lycopene, etc.) will be more abundant. Phytochemicals occur naturally in plants and protect against cancers and strengthens collagen proteins. Also, produce that is picked when perfectly ripened has enhanced taste, texture, and aroma.

Along with fresh fruits and veggies, honey, farm fresh eggs, nuts, fresh flowers, nursery plants, breads, pastries, jams and meats can be found at Farmers Markets.

So get out there in your community and support local producers! Not only will you enjoy fresh produce, but the social atmosphere markets provide as well!

For a listing of Farmers Markets in your state go to: This site will tell you the time, location, and day the markets are open. Some markets may not be listed on this site.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill - IV

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill - EQIP cost-share program

by Traci Bruckner,

The 2002 farm bill grandly expanded funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In combination with the increased funding, we also witnessed a dramatic increase in the payment limitation, going from $50,000 in the 1996 Farm Bill to $450,000 under the 2002 Farm Bill. This allows a substantial portion of the program dollars to flow towards large-scale livestock operations.

The 2007 farm bill needs to address this issue and re-establish the $50,000 payment limitation. It should target program dollars towards conservation measures that promote agricultural diversity and a new generation of agriculturalists rather than those measures that encourage the continued consolidation of agriculture and the environmental degradation of rural communities. The EQIP should be funded at no less than $400 million per year.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill - III

Conservation and Beginning Farmers

by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs,

Beginning farmer programs need to be a critical part of the new farm bill, and conservation programs can play an important role. Present trends and current obstacles are working against the very existence of a new generation of farmers and ranchers. Farm entry rates have declined, the farmer “replacement” rate has fallen to below 50 percent, there are twice as many farmers over 65 as under 35 years old, nearly half of all farm operators in the US are over 55 years in age, and nearly three-fifths of all farm assets are owned by those 55 and older.

The 2002 farm bill contained a provision to make federal conservation programs more available and accessible to beginning farmers and ranchers and other targeted groups (Indian tribes and limited-resource agricultural producers). A provision such as this will achieve two important public policy goals simultaneously – help get new farmers and ranchers started while encouraging them to adopt strong conservation systems from the outset. Unfortunately, USDA failed to implement this special provision.

The new farm bill should again include this provision and include the following language:
The Secretary shall create a special initiative for beginning farmers and ranchers, limited-resource producers, and Indian Tribes that will:

- Provide technical service, mentoring programs, and educational training that focus on sustainable agricultural farming practices and systems as well as related marketing issues.
- Provide strong conservation planning and technical assistance through NRCS field staff and resource specialists as well as through the development of cooperative agreements between NRCS and Extension and non-governmental organizations.
- Provide an option for immediate upfront or advanced payments to beginning farmers and ranchers through multi-year contracts entered into for federal conservation programs such as CSP, WRP, WHIP. This would provide the beginning farmer/rancher a more significant cash flow. For example, the contract would provide the beginning farmer a five-year payment stream in return for a legally binding commitment including an easement.
- Offer a financial incentive such as a 25 percent bonus for beginning farmers and ranchers to develop whole farm/ranch conservation plans under EQIP and CSP. Farmers and ranchers can get a good start with conservation practices through EQIP. By encouraging them to work towards a whole farm/ranch conservation plan, conservation will be furthered and it will enhance their participation in the Conservation Security Program by readying them to participate at the highest level, Tier III.
- Create an incentive such as a 25 percent bonus payment for landowners under CSP, WRP, WHIP, and EQIP to encourage them to rent to beginning farmers and ranchers on a longer term, multi-year basis in connection with adoption and installation of conservation structures and management practices.
- Graduate the cost share portion attributable to the beginning farmer or rancher over a period of years under EQIP, with higher cost share in the beginning and lower at the end of the contract as a means to provide a better cash flow. For example, provide 100 percent in year one and two and 50 percent in year three and so on.
- Encourage retirees or non-farming heirs holding Conservation Reserve Program contracts set to expire to make arrangements to transfer the land to beginning farmers and ranchers by offering a rental rate bonus during a transition period, such as a 20 percent bonus for three years.
- Provide a special initiative through the CSP that focuses on keeping land in grass by providing financial incentives such as a 40 percent payment bonus for beginning farmers and ranchers to develop and improve grazing lands.
- Encourage farmland preservation transition initiatives focused on whole-farm planning. Under such a proposal, farmland enrolled in the Farmland Preservation Program could provide 25 percent bonus payments to a retiring farmer for transferring land and the easement to a beginning farmer who has established a whole-farm conservation plan.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill - II

Community and Conservation

by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs,

The next farm bill should strive to make better use of conservation programs to make rural communities more attractive places to live and visit. The rural communities that have grown are largely those with environmental amenities – lakes and mountains. In the future, uncrowded natural space may become a key environmental amenity, one many farm and ranch communities could provide.

What if, for example, our land retirement based conservation programs provided bonus payments for enrollments that allowed public access as part of a community development plan? It could provide the basis for some tourism-based small businesses – such as bed and breakfasts and other agri- and eco-tourism enterprises.

We had hoped that the Conservation Partnerships and Cooperation Program in the 2002 farm bill would serve these purposes, but its statutory language was very general and never implemented by USDA. They instead implemented their own version that did not reflect the original intent of the provision. We propose it be replaced with language as follows:

The Secretary shall make bonus payments of up to 50 percent for enrollments in the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Grassland Reserve Program under the following conditions:
- the enrollment is certified by a state or local unit of government or Resource Conservation and Development District as consistent with its plan to develop natural space
and habitat as a community development asset;
- the land is restored to native plant species and habitat for native animal species; and
the land owner provides public access to the enrolled land.

The Community Conservation Program would not require separate funding. The cost of bonus payments would be built into the cost of the Conservation Reserve, Wetlands Reserve, and Grasslands Reserve Programs.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill

by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs,

The Conservation Title of the 2007 Farm Bill should focus on rewarding good stewardship of the land by placing a greater emphasis on working lands, communities, and fostering a new generation of conservation-minded farmers and ranchers. Although each of us has a moral obligation to leave the land at least as well as we receive it, the public also has an obligation to share in the cost of protecting the land and water on which all of us – current and future generations – rely for survival.

The 2002 farm bill recognized this obligation and made great strides in this regard. For example, it increased the funding level devoted to conservation programs, developed a whole new approach to conservation programs through creation of the Conservation Security Program and the Partnerships and Cooperation Initiative, and called for a special initiative through conservation programs for beginning farmers and ranchers. We have several proposals for the 2007 Conservation Title.

>> Conservation for Working Lands

To effectively protect the environment, the farm bill must address working lands as well as land retirement. The Conservation Security Program (CSP) established by the 2002 farm bill is the basis on which to build. It has several key strengths.

>> It rewards farmers who practice environmental stewardship year in and year out. That is far better than only paying the worst actors to change, which places the nation’s best environmental stewards at a competitive disadvantage in competing for land. Its ultimate outcome is to shift landownership toward those who care little about stewardship and practice it only when paid.

>> CSP takes the far better approach of both rewarding those who have always practiced stewardship as well as those making improvements. That will yield more far reaching and lasting environmental gains.

>> CSP is also good for farmers. If it’s implemented correctly, it will base payments on how intensively the operator manages the land to protect the environment. Payments based on what farm and ranch operators do are far more likely to remain in their pockets than payments based on how much land they operate. The latter are inevitably bid into higher cash rents and land prices and thereby transferred to the landowner. Payments based on the operator’s management are far more likely to remain with the operator.

The CSP has faced enormous implementation and funding challenges, which created an uncertain and shaky program start. Therefore, we propose that the new farm bill must again fully fund the program with nationwide status, making it available to all eligible farmers for 2007 and beyond. It must also address resource conserving crop rotations – define them and indicate that the Secretary shall include this as an enhancement practice. We are completing an analysis of the CSP which will include more recommendations for improvements.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Say No to Extending 2002 Farm Bill

Say No to Extending 2002 Farm Bill, Say Yes to a Better Approach

Strictly cap payments to large farms and reinvest the savings in programs that support proven local entrepreneurial initiatives

by Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs,

Extending the 2002 farm bill beyond its 2007 expiration would be a mistake. It is destroying family farming and sapping the life blood out of rural America.

Nonetheless, there is a growing drum beat to extend the farm bill. The argument in its favor is based on protecting every dollar of farm payment. Every dollar lost to farm programs is a loss to farmers, so the argument goes, and rewriting the farm bill at a time of mounting deficits will likely lead to lost dollars.

That argument is seriously flawed. Family farming is not strengthened by more dollars distributed by the rule of “the bigger you farm, the more money you get from the government.” To the contrary, that approach is steadily and deliberately dismantling family farming.

We see it all around us. Profit margins for small and mid-sized farms are squeezed as mega farms use mega payments to bid land away from their neighbors and drive land prices and cash rents higher. Every year more family farmers walk away from agriculture while they still have their assets intact.

In addition, the 2002 farm bill reneged on its promise to reward conservation-minded farmers with Conservation Security Program payments – except in a scattered fraction of the nation’s watersheds. The 2002 farm bill is not working to protect the land or family farming.

Nor is it working for rural communities. The federal government currently has no concerted strategy to support the local entrepreneurial initiatives that hold promise for small communities. It’s time for change.

As we have frequently stated, there is a better approach: Strictly cap payments to large farms and reinvest the savings in programs that support proven local entrepreneurial initiatives to revitalize rural America – micro enterprise development, leadership development, youth engagement, value added agriculture initiatives, and beginning farmer programs.

Farmers and rural people are the key to gaining those reforms. During formulation of the 2002 farm bill, pressure for reform collapsed in the congressional conference committee. Key leaders on both sides of the aisle concluded that the most rural votes would go to the political party and elected officials who secured the most money, most quickly for farm programs.

The result was a farm bill which provides money but no solutions, short-term survival but little hope for the future.

We can do better, and it’s up to each of us to help make it happen. We must insist that our representatives say no to any farm bill – current or future – that destroys family farming and fails to invest in the future of rural America, that offers money with no principle and no future.

It is time for the current farm bill to be replaced.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hope in Rural America

Hope in Rural America

New report shows that local initiative combined with supportive public policies can help small rural communities to attract new population

by Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs,

A significant number of Nebraska’s small rural communities are growing, according to an analysis by Dr. Randy Cantrell, with the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative. The findings demonstrate there can be a future for rural communities across America. The key is local initiative and supportive public policies.

The report analyzed population change in Nebraska from 1990 to 2000. Its findings include:
Population grew in exactly half the communities with fewer than 1,000 people and a little over half of communities with fewer than 2,500 people. Seventy-seven of Nebraska’s 93 counties had a community that gained population.

On average, towns with fewer than 2,500 people achieved a 25 percent increase in people aged 30 to 39.

Sixty-three of Nebraska’s 93 counties saw an increase in wage and salary jobs.

The population with college degrees grew in 178 non-metropolitan communities.

These findings do not demonstrate that all is well in rural America. But they do demonstrate that very rural communities can draw families and grow. They show that small entrepreneurs are creating jobs and lives in very rural places.

Most important, they demonstrate hope. Strong local initiative and leadership together with policies that invest in the future can succeed in revitalizing rural communities.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rural Action Network Adds Advisors

National Rural Action Network Adds Advisors

The Advisory Committee of the National Rural Action Network has added four additional members:

Anthony Flaccavento, Executive Director of Appalachian Sustainable Development.

Anthony was a founding member of the organization and has been the Executive Director since its origination in October 1995. Under his leadership the organization has helped to create an infrastructure of sustainability in both agriculture and forestry in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee.

Larry Frimerman, Executive Director of the Three Valley Conservation Trust in Oxford, Ohio.

The Three Valley Conservation Trust works to conserve the natural environment and cultural heritage in Butler, Preble, and parts of Darke and Montgomery counties in Ohio.

Shirley Sherrod, State Director for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund in Albany, Georgia, will act as Ralph Paige’s alternate (Ralph is Executive Director of the Federation).

The Federation’s mission is the development of self-supporting communities with programs that increase income and enhance other opportunities. The nonprofit also strives to assist in land retention and development, especially for African Americans but essentially for all family farmers.

Adrian Talbott, with Generation Engage, has been invited to participate as well.

Generation Engage is a nonpartisan effort aimed at raising the political profile of young adults throughout the country.

Please take action for Rural America! Revitalizing rural communities will take hard work, and we need all the help we can get. Please sign up; become part of the action – and connect your friends into being part of the solution! Read about how you can do that in the Strengthening Rural America Petition article on our website -

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Working With Rural Youth Key to Fighting Child Poverty

Working “with” Rural Youth Key to Fighting Child Poverty

Michael L. Holton, or 402.687.2103x1015

Progressive small communities involve young people in decision making and community governance to shape their home’s future

During the past three months, we have been examining child poverty in rural America. Traditionally, youth development strategies were oriented towards what agencies and communities could do to children to help the community.

As times changed, realization has grown that young people do not want projects done to them. Instead agencies and developers have adopted a philosophy of helping youths by doing service work for them. Examples are benefit suppers or walk-a-thons on the local track to raise money for youth groups and their activities. While this may seem normal and beneficial for all, it does not include young people in a meaningful and productive way.

The approach that many small, rural communities have adopted is to include youth in the decision making process as well as the implementation of the project. Out migration of youth from communities is at an all time high. One of the key reasons for this mass exodus is that youth are not a part of their community.

Surveys and assessments show time and again that, while young people may love the community, they have not truly taken any ownership for the future of their home. Local high school alumni are often invited back for celebrations, but their opinions on the future of the community are not solicited. Alumni spend two or three days celebrating and then return to the urban lifestyle they chose upon leaving rural areas.

Many of these people would opt to return to their community but are simply not asked. They may feel like they did when they were young – given no opportunity to participate in community decision making. The vital point: It is never too late to start asking.

While young people are in the community, let them make a mark for the future of their home. Progressive communities have incorporated youth in city leadership, positions on the local chamber of commerce, civic groups, economic development, historic preservation, education boards, business associations, and others.

The key in working to bring children out of poverty and isolation is to include youth in shaping their own future. Everyone benefits in this type of relationship.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs Values. Worth. Action

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Mr. Bush, Look North

Mr Bush, Look North

South Sioux City illustrates what to do in absorbing immigrant populations

Omaha World Herald Editorial - June 7, 2006

President Bush is in Omaha today, touring and talking, trying to bridge the gap between Americans in their intense dispute over illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, communities are crafting their own answers. One successful model of a community working well with its Latino immigrant population can be seen in South Sioux City, Neb. It's a model that other cities and national leaders would do well to copy.

The city, Chamber of Commerce, school system and business community are working cooperatively to help immigrants make the best of their opportunity in a new land.
City Administrator Lance Hedquist says about one-fourth of South Sioux City's population consists of minorities, most of whom are Latino. The school system is 48 percent Latino, 43 percent white and 9 percent non-Hispanic minorities.

The commendable steps South Sioux City has taken toward helping Latino immigrants assimilate into American society include:

• Leadership training. Siouxland Unidad Latina has offered the Siouxland Immigrant Leadership Training program since 2001 to new immigrants. The seven- to eight-week session provides resources and information about the community, said board member Norma De La O.

The weekly sessions, she said, deal with issues such as law enforcement, city government and education. Officials in those fields attend so immigrants can ask them questions, De La O said. About 115 people have completed the program, which ends with a graduation ceremony.

• Business development. The Hispanic Roundtable Group, a part of the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project run by the Center for Rural Affairs, has provided networking opportunities for Hispanic business owners for three years.

Adriana Dungan, REAP business specialist for northeast Nebraska, said the group offers training in customer service, financial statements, sales taxes and marketing, among other subjects. Although the roundtable is aimed at Hispanic business owners, non-Hispanics and anyone thinking of owning a business can attend. City officials have been very helpful in addressing the group's needs, Dungan said.

• School-based programs. South Sioux City Community Schools offers two exemplary programs: its Cardinal Student Support Center and its Newcomers Center. Bilingual staff members at the Cardinal center assist families that are new to the area and need help with English skills, said Superintendent Steve Rector.

The center also helps parents register their students for school and assists with financial and housing needs. Students with limited English skills, Rector said, attend their neighborhood school for half a day and then go to the Newcomers Center for half a day for intensive language instruction.

The idea, he said, is to help families become stable and put down roots in the school system and community. The program, which local businesses support, has boosted academic achievement and cut down on employee turnover for local employers.

South Sioux City also has offered an annual health fair aimed at immigrants, worked with Latinos to stage a Cinco de Mayo celebration and helped them sign up for the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

Yet South Sioux Citians also strongly desire a resolution to some immigrants' legal status. Although they value immigrants, "the community as a whole clearly wants people to be legal," said Hedquist, the city administrator.

As the immigration debate rages on, South Sioux City is a strong example of sound vision where Latino immigrant relations are concerned. Its leaders are worth emulating as Bush and Congress keep seeking a rational middle ground on which all Americans can agree.

Omaha World Herald, June 7, 2006

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Poverty in Rural America

Latest County Income Level Data

Great Plains economy has rebounded, but low incomes still persistent in rural America

In an annual ritual, we bring you the latest data from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis on county income levels.

Based on 2004 data (the latest data available), the new figures again show how pervasive low incomes are in the rural United States. Of the 250 lowest income counties in the nation, 225 are non-metropolitan counties.

However, some good news continues for the Great Plains region. The lowest income region in the nation from 1997 to 2002, the rural economy in much of the Great Plains appears to have significantly rebounded, though still lagging behind urban areas.

For example, in our 2003 publication Swept Away we found that rural counties in Nebraska had 66 to 70 percent of the per capita income of the state’s metropolitan counties for the 1990 to 2000 period. In 2004, it was up to 80 percent. Nebraska, which had several of the lowest 10 or 20 income counties in past years, has only three of the lowest income 250 counties based on 2004 data – Loup (2), Grant (14) and McPherson (123).

Ironically, the nation’s highest per capita income county is also the smallest. Loving County, Texas, population 62 (and declining, according to the Census Bureau), is home to vast oil and gas deposits and a per capita income of $89,471, nearly 800 percent greater than its Texas companion, Starr County.

Over 100 of the lowest 250 counties are located in four states – Kentucky (35), Texas (30), Mississippi (20), and Georgia (19). Only 12 are metropolitan counties – five in Georgia, three in Texas, and two each in Kentucky and Mississippi. In all, 33 states have at least one county included in the 250 lowest income counties.

Lowest Income Counties in the United States

County 2004 Per Capita Income ($)
1. Starr, TX 11,362
2. Loup, NE 13,372
3. Maverick, TX 13,586
4. Zavala, TX 13,873
5. Ziebach, SD 13,933
6. Zapata, TX 14,253
7. Jefferson, MS 14,479
8. Union, FL 14,535
9. Todd, SD 14,557
10. Presidio, TX 14,781

Source: US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. The complete list of the 250 lowest income counties may be found at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Center Proposes Historic Investment in Rural Development

Center Proposes Historic Investment in Farm Bill Rural Development

Lyons, Nebraska - Today, the Center for Rural Affairs urged Congress to make historic investments in the Rural Development Title of the 2007 Farm Bill.

The Center’s Rural Community and Entrepreneurship Investment Initiative calls for an additional one-half billion dollar investment – a four-fold increase – in local entrepreneurial strategies that have been demonstrated to work in revitalizing rural communities.

“It’s time for an historic investment in the future of rural America,” said Chuck Hassebrook, Center for Rural Affairs Executive Director. “The 2002 Farm Bill is sapping the lifeblood out of rural America and destroying family farming. It’s time for change.”

The Center’s proposed quadrupling of rural entrepreneurial development could be funded, at no additional cost to taxpayers, by tightening limitations on payments to mega farms. Payment limitation reforms that reduce the cost of farm programs by just five percent would fund the Center’s proposal and provide an additional $250 million for investment in bio-energy, broadband telecommunications and rural development related research.

According to Hassebrook, “This is a win-win solution. It frees up funds to invest in the future of rural America and it strengthens family farms. The most effective thing congress could do to strengthen family farms is to cap the subsidies that mega farms use to drive smaller operations out of business. That is why more than 80 percent of farmers support reducing payments to large farms.”

The Center’s proposed rural development package outlines four key areas where public investment in entrepreneurship, innovation and asset-building can create genuine economic opportunity for rural people.

- Rural Entrepreneurs – assist rural entrepreneurs in acquiring skills, capital and technical assistance as well as building networks necessary to establish and grow new farms, ranches and small businesses in rural places.

- Rural Communities – assist rural communities in developing leadership, youth engagement and entrepreneurial development initiatives as well as entrepreneurial education opportunities.

- Rural Families – through the creation of Individual Development Accounts, assist families and individuals living in rural counties experiencing severe depopulation to create savings to buy a home or start a small business, farm or ranch in those counties or obtain education and training.

- Family Farm and Ranch Innovation – assist farmers and ranchers in pursuing high-value, consumer driven markets for their products, 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.

“Rural Americans know there are rural revitalization strategies that work out here in the countryside. And the 2007 Farm Bill should focus on what works for all of rural America,” said Hassebrook.

According to the Center, entrepreneurial development and asset-building strategies help make rural communities stronger and more viable as opportunities are expanded and ownership and economic opportunity are extended to more rural people.

“Our proposals are based on solutions to challenges faced by rural communities; solutions derived, not from theories, but from the shared experiences of rural people from across the nation working diligently to revitalize their communities,” explained Hassebrook.

“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 rural communities are not sharing in the nation’s prosperity. This hurts all of us,” concluded Hassebrook.

The Center points out that the need for this historic investment rural entrepreneurial development is demonstrated by recently released Bureau of Economic Analysis data for 2004. The data revealed that 226 of the 250 lowest income counties in the U.S. are rural – 10 of the 10 lowest income counties are rural and 19 of the 20 lowest income counties are rural. Texas counties make up 5 of the 10 lowest income counties and 6 of the 20 lowest income counties. Nebraska, South Dakota, Florida and Kentucky all have 2 or more rural counties in the group of 20 lowest income counties.

The Center for Rural Affairs’ 2007 Farm Bill Rural Development Title Proposal is available on the web at

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.