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Connecting Local Residents with USDA Services

USDA staff members meet with farmers and ranchers to talk about available assistance in South Carolina.

USDA staff members meet with farmers and ranchers to talk about available assistance in South Carolina.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers and ranchers use conservation to help the environment while improving agricultural operations. But not everyone knows about the variety of programs and services offered through USDA agencies.

USDA recently launched an effort to ensure the department is reaching landowners and rural citizens of different backgrounds. Through USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity, USDA is intensifying outreach efforts in places with persistent poverty. For example, NRCS’ goal is to reach landowners with farms and ranches of all types and sizes.

Sixteen states, including South Carolina, identified StrikeForce counties, where more than 20 percent of the population has been considered persistently impoverished for the past three decades.

“Our goal is to extend our outreach beyond our traditional client base, and reach those potential customers that perhaps we have not made contact with before,” said Ann English, NRCS state conservationist in South Carolina.

To enhance outreach, NRCS staff members in South Carolina are hosting joint outreach meetings with other USDA agencies where farmers and landowners can meet with NRCS district conservationists to talk about their resource needs. In addition, NRCS has partnered with groups like the Center for Heirs’ Property and Preservation and Minority Landowner magazine to reach small and limited resource farmers and landowners who may be unfamiliar with the many programs and services of NRCS.

USDA agencies in South Carolina hosted a large outreach meeting in mid-November at South Carolina State University, where more than 100 people learned about NRCS and other USDA agencies. USDA agencies at the meeting included NRCS, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Farm Service Agency, Food and Nutrition Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Rural Development and Risk Management Agency.

Farmers had the opportunity to hear from agency experts and ask questions. Farmers also could engage in one-on-one consultations with NRCS conservationists to talk about their specific interest and needs.

Five NRCS district conservationists were equipped with laptops, enabling them to provide one-on-one consultations with farmers and ranchers to discuss needs for their land. The laptops allowed the conservationists to view aerial photos of land.

Appointments were also scheduled, so that NRCS staff could visit later with the farmers and ranchers in the fields, pastures or forests.

“Many farmers didn’t realize they were eligible for financial assistance to help them put in cross fencing or water troughs for their livestock,” NRCS District Conservationist Frank Stephens said. “I’m glad they had the chance to come visit with us. We encourage farmers and ranchers to stop by one of our local offices to learn about the many programs available through NRCS.”

Similar outreach meetings and conservation demonstration field days are scheduled in 2014 to help illustrate the benefits of land stewardship to farmers.

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