USDA marking Veterans Day with push for vets to seek ag careers
By Daniel Enoch
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2016 - USDA is marking Veterans Day, Nov. 11, by honoring its employees who have served in the armed forces and by inviting service members to seek a career in agriculture once they hang up their uniforms.
“It doesn't matter whether or not they have experience in agriculture,” Karen Comfort, deputy associate administrator with USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, said in a blog post this week. “If they are passionate about making a career in agriculture, we want to help them achieve their goal.”
For example, Comfort pointed to the department's Agricultural Commodity Grader Apprenticeship initiative, a year-long pilot program that provides technical training to produce the next generation of USDA commodity graders.
Comfort said half of the participants in the program came from careers that were far removed from agriculture. One participant, Charles Horton is a retired Air Force master sergeant who served as an aircraft machinist and welder for 24 years. Another, Paul Derdzinksi, was an Army ammunition specialist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the blog post, Comfort noted that USDA employs more than 11,000 veterans and since 2009 has provided more than $505 million in direct farm loans to more than 7,400 veterans to start, maintain or grow their farming operations. USDA has service centers across the country where veterans can find out about farming and other USDA programs and services.
Just in the Agricultural Marketing Service, there are more than 300 employees who have served in the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard, or who are serving in a military reserve component. Out of 617 new hires in AMS in fiscal year 2016, more than 12 percent (74) are veterans.
USDA also works with federal partners like the Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to inform service members about the variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance for veterans who are interested in agriculture. Relationships with organizations like the Farmer-Veteran Coalition and Hiring Our Heroes opens the agriculture industry and the thousands of high-skilled jobs to veterans, Comfort said.
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