Category: View Point

ViewPoint: Abuse of farm safety net harms rural America

By Cora Fox, Center for Rural Affairs
Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) makes billions of dollars in payments to farmers across the country. Farmers rely on this money as part of a safety net, which helps them mitigate risks involved with working in agriculture. Congress put in place common sense limits on farm program payments, but left damaging loopholes.
Currently, farmers are required to be actively engaged in farming to receive these payments. “Actively engaged” farmers should be on the farm or in the tractor, as well as investing in land, equipment, or providing capital for the farming operation.
Each corporation, LLC, or individual farmer meeting “actively engaged” eligibility criteria can receive payments. In 2015, USDA paid $3.7 million to one farming operation comprised of two individuals and 32 corporations. The operation reported that 25 members (plus 10 spouses) contributed active personal management, but no personal labor in the field.
Support for these large farming operations works against other USDA programs, like beginning farmer loans, rural development programs, and more. The positive impact from those programs is diminished when corporate agriculture is strengthened by excessive and unnecessary farm program payments.
Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be misguided to further drive farm consolidation, increase barriers for beginning farmers, and decrease the number of true family farms in our agricultural system. Instead, sound, effective payment limitations should be implemented and enforced to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t funding the squandering of rural America.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

ViewPoint: Conservation license plates support REAP projects

By Roger White, Black Hawk County REAP Chairman
The Iowa’s Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) was first created in 1989. The program focuses on environmental education, DNR land management and open spaces (state parks), city parks and open spaces, soil & water conservation, county conservation, roadside vegetation and historical resources.
At the beginning, the statute called for $30 million to be appropriated statewide for the fund. In 1997, the legislature amended the statute to $20 million because they had never fully funded the $30 million. Since 1997, the legislature fully funded it only once and Governor Branstad vetoed a portion so that the largest amount available in recent years has been $16 million. A year ago the legislature dropped funding to $12 million and in the session just ended, the legislature cut the amount available for REAP projects to $10 million, which is just one-half of the amount promised in 1997.
Of course, the value of $10 million today is significantly less than it was in 1997, so the practical effect of the successive cuts is that REAP is badly underfunded. Every year there are locally-designed projects for parks, conservation, open spaces, recreation, trails and other desired priorities that are not funded because there is too little money appropriated. Despite the backlog of projects, the legislature made successive cuts.
To demonstrate the dilemma for local governmental entities, in 2017 there were worthwhile local Black Hawk County projects in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Evansdale, La Porte City and Dunkerton. Because of the shortage of appropriated funds, the only project funded was Dunkerton’s trail. The others all failed because there was no money.
Black Hawk County is not unique as this same phenomenon happened in county after county across the state. For a list of past REAP projects in Black Hawk County, logon to
There is something that those of us who value these natural resources can do to support the REAP program, and that is to purchase and display Natural Resources license plates. We pay a slight additional fee [for these special plates] and that money goes into the fund for REAP, over and above what the legislature appropriates. We can swap our license plates at any time; we do not have to wait for the renewal. Just take your current plates to the county treasurer’s office or driver’s license office. They will calculate the value remaining on the registration and give you a credit and calculate the amount of the new plates. You have your choice among five designs – the popular gold finch, trout, pheasant, whitetail deer, or my personal favorite, the bald eagle. You’ll walk out with your new Natural Resources plates and will have made a contribution toward the REAP program.
That is a win for the environment, for conservation, for recreation and for historical preservation. And at the same time, you are displaying very attractive license plates on your vehicles.

ViewPoint: Overcoming three types of biases

By Jordan Feyerherm, Center for Rural Affairs
While many people are familiar with the concept of bias, having a deeper understanding of what it is and how it manifests is often the first step in circumventing negative ramifications. Bias can limit potential for growth, innovation, and success on individual and community wide levels.
Conformity bias is best described as an individual going along with the opinion of a group, even if it directly contradicts what that individual believes. This can result in a group of people agreeing to something because they feel that’s what the overall group believes.
Confirmation bias means looking for evidence to back up already held beliefs or opinions. For example, if you’re a hiring manager, and believe people who attended “school X” are hard workers, you might not question their other qualifications as closely as someone who attended a school you’re not familiar with.
Attribution bias is often seen in conjunction with conformity bias. We see members of our “in-group” (those we see as part of our own cultural group) in a favorable and forgiving light. If someone from our own in-group makes a mistake, we’re more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. Conversely, we’re likely to be more critical of members of other groups, attributing mistakes as personal shortcomings or failures.
While all three types of biases have potential negative consequences, they can be avoided by recognizing common situations and hallmarks. By understanding how biases work and manifest, we can limit the impact they have on our decision making.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

ViewPoint: Value-added producers benefit from grants

By Cora Fox, Center for Rural Affairs
Businesses that receive Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) are less likely to fail and are more likely to hire employees, according to a May 2018 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) report.
The VAPG program, administered by the USDA, supports farmers and ranchers who want to access value-added markets by offering funds for business and marketing plan development; feasibility studies; and working capital for processing costs, advertising, and some inventory and salary expenses. Value-added goods can be fruit made into jam or milk made into cheese, which both fetch a higher price than the base ingredients.
Taking a look at 1,020 businesses, the USDA study found those supplemented with VAPG dollars were 89 percent less likely to fail within two years of receiving the grant, compared to nonrecipient businesses of the same age and characteristics.
Additionally, the research found VAPG-funded businesses are more likely to hire employees. Between one and five years post-award, grant recipients employed five to six additional employees, on average. Prior to receiving funds, no significant difference in employment levels was found.
Lastly, the study found the success of a business correlated to the amount of funding received. After two years, businesses awarded with more dollars were less likely to fail. The increase also corresponded with job creation, as those with higher funding allotments were more likely to employ more workers.
The results show VAPG is important. Businesses that receive funding invest in their communities, support rural economies, and create jobs.

ViewPoint: Stop the summer slide

By Cheryl Carruthers, Service Area Supervisor of Information & Technology Services with Central Rivers AEA
Teachers and parents know that with the joy of summer also comes the lazy days of potential summer learning slide. Sitting idle for as long as three months could potentially undo the gains made throughout the year and affect how successfully a student will adjust to the coming new school year. Central Rivers AEA, in cooperation with Mackin, has developed two summer reading resource websites called I Want To Read. One website has materials for grades K-5 and the other is for middle and high school students.
On both websites there are links to eBooks within your school’s MackinVIA portal, as well as links to a summer reading journal and other book-related activities. These resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all summer long.
There is also a webpage on the Central Rivers AEA web site called Media Services GetMedia Resources with materials to go along with these summer reading resources, including a sample parent letter and templates for bookmarks and posters.
MackinVIA is an online eBook resource that is provided by Central Rivers AEA for access by students and teachers 24-hours a day, year round. Parents interested in accessing this resources should contact their child’s school building/district teacher librarian for more information regarding login. Parents can also contact staff at Central Rivers AEA at
If you have more specific questions regarding the Central Rivers AEA summer reading resources, please contact Cheryl Carruthers or Cari Teske, Central Rivers AEA librarians. Cheryl can be reached at


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