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Secretary’s Column: Expanding Access to Credit in Rural America

As drought continues across America, President Obama and I continue doing all we can to help producers. In addition to the actions we’ve already taken, we will continue to call on Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that gives USDA more tools to help, while providing more certainty for our producers.

Throughout this disaster, USDA has worked hard to offer emergency access to credit for farmers and ranchers.

In the early days of the drought, USDA acted to lower the interest rate for FSA Emergency Loans from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.  This week, USDA announced that we will modify emergency loans by allowing loans to be made earlier in the season – helping livestock producers to offset increased feed costs, as well as those who have liquidated herds. Read more »

Garden with Native Plant Species on National Planting Day

The People’s Garden Initiative and Keep America Beautiful are asking Americans to join us in supporting local ecosystems by planting species native to their area this fall. The first ever National Planting Day will take place on Saturday, September 8 and will continue with activities happening through November 30. Read more »

USDA Official Tours Missouri School Garden Project

Students at  Barack Obama Elementary School, near St. Louis, learn about healthy food choices through gardening.

Students at Barack Obama Elementary School, near St. Louis, learn about healthy food choices through gardening.

Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development Judith Canales recently had the opportunity to visit Missouri’s new Barack Obama Elementary School located in a suburb of St. Louis.  The school district has started the Barack Obama Elementary Healthy Food Pilot Project where the objective is to serve a healthier school breakfast and lunch menu.  As part of this pilot project, the Farm to School Program is being incorporated to bring in more locally grown produce.  The elementary school has also created a school garden in partnership with community members, community-based organizations, and a local community gardening group.  It appears that they are on the right track! Read more »

Planting Seeds of Prosperity

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries.  Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

Forestry and Agricultural Investment Management (FAIM) workers in Rwanda check the condition of virus-free banana plant seedlings. FAIM uses the latest scientific research and techniques to produce healthy starter plants for Rwandan farmers to help boost their farm production, incomes and local food supply. The company hopes to expand its effort to other African countries. Photo courtesy of FAIM.CO

Entrepreneur and horticulturalist Steve Jones was on a Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) agricultural trade mission (ATM) to Madagascar in 2006 when he first began thinking about how modern plant propagation techniques might help struggling East African farmers boost their productivity and prosperity. Read more »

USDA Undersecretary Saddles up for Clean Energy, Business and Economic Development in Nevada

With Nevada USDA Rural Development State Director Sarah Adler as his side-kick, Agriculture Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager hit the trail earlier this month in Nevada, kicking off a major job-creating clean energy announcement, meeting with business owners and talking to ranchers severely challenged by the drought.

Tonsager kicked off his trip with a news conference to announce a loan guarantee to Fulcrum Sierra BioFuels to build an advanced biofuels refinery in northern Nevada. The refinery will convert 147,000 tons of municipal solid waste into more than 10 million gallons of advanced biofuels each year, creating 430 jobs during construction and over 50 permanent jobs.

He met with state agency representatives interested in capitalizing Nevada small business projects, and met with a USDA Business and Industry loan guarantee recipient – a manufacturer who recently attended a White House conference on manufacturing. Read more »

Mississippi Church Restores & Nurtures a Forest with NRCS’ Help

Deacon Willie Moseley nurtures not only his church’s congregation, but also the 40 acres of forest that surround it. Antioch Baptist Church in Lauderdale County, Miss. has owned the land for almost a century, but the church has recently formed a new vision for caring for this forest.

Starting in the 1920s, trees on the church’s property were harvested periodically to help finance church projects, but a major harvest in the 1990s left nothing but stumps and idle land. Moseley wanted the church to benefit from the forest—sustainably managed forests can provide a steady income to their owners—and he turned to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for help.

Moseley had worked with NRCS on his own land, so when he recently was chosen to head the church’s Board of Trustees, he started talking to the other deacons about how NRCS provides financial assistance, expertise in planting trees and other help with stewardship of forests and other natural resources. Read more »