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Under Secretary, Northwest innovators Focus on Rural American Renewal

During a brief but busy trip to Oregon Monday, January 28, Agriculture Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager highlighted opportunities to increase public-private collaboration and innovative financing models for rural community and economic development. That morning, Mr. Tonsager delivered the keynote address at the Harvesting Clean Energy conference in Corvallis. Later that day in Portland, Mr. Tonsager sat down with a diverse group of business, technology, education, agriculture, finance and state government representatives to stress the importance of inter-entity teamwork to achieve a common vision for a self-sustaining, prosperous rural America.

“Our mission is to help create jobs in rural America,” Mr. Tonsager explained. “We are looking for creativity, especially as it relates to putting capital together for rural areas so that we can extend our resources further in a thoughtful, sensible way.” Read more »

Beginning Farmers and Ranchers at a Glance

USDA programs have targeted assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers since the 1992 Agricultural Credit Improvement Act. Farms or ranches are considered “beginning” if the operators have managed them for 10 years or less. The Economic Research Service has looked at the trend in numbers of beginning farmers and ranchers in recent decades and examined some key characteristics that distinguish them from established farms using the Census of Agriculture and the Agricultural Resource Management Survey. Taken every five years, the Census provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agricultural data for every county in the nation.

For more than two decades, the share of farms operated by beginning farmers has been in decline.  Beginning farms and ranches accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s 2 million family farms and ranches in 2011 – down from about 38 percent in 1982. Consistent with this trend, the average age of principal farm operators in the United States has risen in that period, from 50 to 58. Read more »

USDA Grant Helps a Small Florida Town on the Path to Clean, Safe Drinking Water

There are more than 160,000 public water systems providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives. Millions of Americans receive high quality drinking water every day from their public water systems. But access to quality drinking water cannot be taken for granted.

Like many small towns in rural America, the Town of Otter Creek in Levy County, Florida, strives to provide its residents with safe, high quality water. Unfortunately, for this community of under 150 people, poor quality drinking water is a reality. With high levels of trihalomethanes and iron in the water supply, town officials faced a potential health hazard and a lack of financial resources to address the problem. The Town was issued a Consent Order by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to find a solution for the water quality issue. Given the town’s median household income of $18,000, and limited town resources, town officials sought assistance to develop a plan toward remedying the situation. Read more »