October 1, 2014

USDA grants and loans bring cash infusion to rural Nebraska

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding more than $1.7-million dollars in loans and grants to a host of projects across rural Nebraska.

Doug O’Brien, the agency’s Under Secretary for Rural Development, says the infusion of capital comes from the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program and it’ll go initially to five Nebraska-based agencies.

O’Brien says, “Southeast Nebraska Development received $250,000 in loans and $62,000 in grants to make microloans and provide technical assistance to small businesses in 15 Nebraska counties.”

The Lyons-based Center for Rural Affairs is getting a $500,000 loan in order to make microloans to support very small rural businesses across the state.

Another large contribution is going to First Ponca Financial.

“We provided $300,000 in loans and $75,000 in grants and they’re serving 12 Nebraska counties, 2 Iowa counties and 1 in South Dakota,” O’Brien says. “They’re going to serve those very small micro-entrepreneurs, providing technical assistance and access to capital for these small businesses.”

He says the Perennial Public Power District is getting a $300,000 grant from the USDA.

O’Brien says, “They in turn are providing the Fillmore County Hospital equipment and helping to furnish its new behavioral health facility.”

The Nebraska Enterprise Fund is getting a $100,000 loan to make microloans to support small, rural businesses across the state.

Across the country, he says the USDA is awarding $59 million in grants and loans to projects similar to those in Nebraska.



Harvest time is almost here, use extra caution on rural roads

corn harvest 1Tractors and combines will soon be bringing in the harvest from the fields and lumbering down Nebraska’s rural roads at all hours. Kelly Brunkhorst, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, is putting out a reminder to those farmers — and to all motorists — to be cautious and courteous.

Brunkhorst says “We just want to be cognizant of safety and to make sure we’re taking time to put safety at the top of our minds, not only across the country roads but across farmsteads with overhead power lines, belts and chains and everything else that comes with the bountiful harvest we’re looking at.”

Brunkhorst says it’s important to be careful while harvesting and traveling the country roads, but it’s also vital to be careful when entering grain bins. He says many accidents involving grain bins have led to deadly consequences.

“In partnership with the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, we’ve been doing some great outreach efforts on grain tube safety,” he says. “As we talk about taking a second for safety, we want to make sure that’s on the top of everybody’s minds.”

Brunkhorst says the corn groups have donated several grain bin rescue tubes to local emergency responders to help those who may become trapped and engulfed in a grain bin.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton




Nebraska lands federal grants to research soil, water conservation

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

The USDA is awarding new grants to universities and organizations in Nebraska and 30 other states that are working to develop new conservation methods, according to U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“Farmers want to know how to deal with the variations of weather that they’re beginning to see — the more intense storms, the longer droughts, the occasional flood or the tornado that’s very destructive,” Vilsack said. “These are the kind of programs that will help us learn a little bit more about that.”

Vilsack says it’s vital that farmers and ranchers be able to change and adapt.

“Conservation has this extraordinary opportunity not only to preserve the soil which is critically important to this farming operation and every farming operation, but also to preserve the quality of the water and the quantity of the water available,” Vilsack said.

The USDA is awarding nearly $16-million from the Conservation Innovation Grant program. Vilsack says half of those grants will focus on soil health.

“It’s a way of preserving this great topsoil that we’ve been blessed to have in the Midwest and also preserving and conserving our scarce water resources so that we continue to have not just an abundance of water, but the ability of that water to provide additional economic opportunity in the form of tourism,” Vilsack says.

One of the grants is going to the National Corn Growers Assocaition, to find new ways to increase productivity and increase farmer participation in conservation efforts. Since it started several years ago, the Conservation Innovation Grant program has handed out $126-million to finance more than 300 research projects.

Booze to be banned at Lincoln tailgating spot after violence

New rules are being put in place for a popular tailgating area near Memorial Stadium after a near-riot before last weekend’s Nebraska-Miami football game.

After meeting with Lincoln police, the owners of Indian Center say they’ll ban alcohol on the site, a policy that will be strictly enforced by security guards.

The booze ban will only be in place for this weekend’s homecoming game against Illinois. More long-term changes are still in the works.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 people were packed into the area last weekend, many of whom, in the police chief’s words “over-consumed alcohol.”

Buses were nearly tipped over and a Lincoln policeman was hurt. Reinforcements were called, leading to 13 arrests and 16 citations.


Study: Climate change is making some Nebraska bird species scarce

Long-billed curlew

Long-billed curlew

A study by an environmental group is analyzing the vulnerability to climate change of more than 500 species of birds across the Midwest. The Environmental Defense Fund is working with teams of biologists in Nebraska, Illinois and Iowa.

Alicia Hardin, an administrator in the wildlife division of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, says some birds are becoming more scarce across the region.

Hardin says, “We have seen quite a decline in some of our grassland species, especially birds that really depend on larger blocks of grassland.”

The report is finding between one-fifth and one-third of the bird species across the three states are vulnerable to climate change and some of them are beginning to thin in numbers.

“Some of those species would be the greater prairie chicken, another one would be the Henslow sparrow,” Hardin says. “There’s also the long-billed cerlew which is a really unique looking bird. It also really enjoys bigger blocks of grassland.”

Farmers and ranchers can take pro-active steps to keep species off the endangered list, or to keep them from sliding further into decline. Hardin says many ag producers are already taking those important steps.

“Maybe some of the areas that are on borders or buffers, we would look to see if there’s a way we can take that out of cropland production because maybe it’s not as productive as far as inputs and what they get out of it,” Hardin says. “Instead, maybe put it into perennial vegetation like grasses that might be more appealing to some of these grassland birds.”

Officials with the Environmental Defense Fund say strong, positive incentives are needed for farmers and ranchers to manage and restore habitat in ways that can help offset the ecological and agricultural impact of drought and floods. It can include restoring wetlands, floodplains and grasslands, the use of cover crops, no-till agriculture, and buffers to provide shade and improve water quality.

In other parts of the country, the IDF is developing “habitat exchanges” to help farmers earn revenue for growing wildlife habitat alongside crops and improving drought conditions.