A University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension program that helps rural women make farm and ranch management decisions was honored during the organization's staff development conference.

NU Extension's "The Critical Difference: Rural Issues for Women" program received an Excellence in Team Programming award, from Interim Extension Dean Elbert Dickey.

"As a result of this program, rural women have developed entrepreneurial ideas and improved their management and record keeping skills, in addition to some of their traditional roles," Dickey said.

The one-day educational conference began in 1999 to help women learn marketing and other business management skills. Participants then sought to improve their value as co-operators of farms and ranches. Nearly 28% of participants returning for the 2000 conference indicated they had started or were planning entrepreneurial projects to supplement their agricultural income, from raising alternative crops to writing children's books, and were figuring out new ways to market their products.

"Critical Difference" team members are Jenny Nixon, Sioux County Extension educator; Sheryl Carson, Sheridan County Extension educator; Sheila Budd, administrative assistant, Stockman's National Bank, Rushville; Jana Jensen, rancher and former vice president for member services, Nebraska Cattlemen, Alliance; Charlie Kuskie, branch manager, Roach Ag Commodity Marketing, Inc., Chadron; and ranchers Leona Keener and Joyce Stengle, both of Marsland.

The program was supported with funds and in-kind donations from 19 northern Panhandle banks, the Family Nurturing Coalition, Farm Credit Services of America, Northwest Rural Public Power District, Roach Ag Commodity Marketing, six radio stations, 16 agribusinesses and 20 newspapers in three states.

The conferences reached more than 175 individuals and their families in the last two years. In 2000, 14% of attendees came from South Dakota and Wyoming.

NU Extension helps committee members plan, obtain funds, evaluate the program. Extension is part of NU's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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