Vilsack tells of $9.7 million in grants to diversify American agriculture

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2014 - USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says $9.7 million in grants will benefit 62 community-based and non-profit organizations, and educational institutions to conduct training, outreach and technical assistance for socially disadvantaged (including tribal) and veteran farmers and ranchers.

The awards are distributed through the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the "2501 Program."

"Our nation's farmers and ranchers are diverse in experience, background and knowledge, giving us the tools we need to build a resilient agricultural system," Secretary Vilsack said. "Today's announcement is part of our ongoing commitment to identify, recruit and train a vibrant next generation of farmers and ranchers who can carry American agriculture into the future. It is also part of our pledge to assist military veterans find economic opportunity as they return to civilian life."

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Secretary Vilsack made the announcement on Wednesday at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference, a gathering of leaders from the country's 566 federally recognized Tribes. The 2501 Program primarily partners with Historically Black Land Grant Universities (1890 Land Grant Institutions), Native American Land Grant Tribal Colleges and Universities (1994 Land Grant Institutions), Hispanic-Serving Institutions of higher education, and community-based and non-profit organizations that work with minority and veteran farmers and ranchers.

The 2501 Program has distributed more than $66 million to 250 partners since 2010. The 2014 Farm Bill reauthorized the program and expanded assistance to include military veterans. The program is administered by the USDA's Office of Advocacy and Outreach.

Of today's announced grants, 31 (50 percent) will support efforts in states participating in USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative, an effort to direct USDA support and services to underserved rural areas experiencing chronic poverty. Twenty-five (39 percent) of the grants will go to partnerships directly targeting veterans interested in farming and are part of USDA's enhanced commitment to expanding services to veterans in agriculture. Twelve grants (20 percent) will directly benefit tribal and native communities.

This year's awards will be distributed in 34 states, Puerto Rico and the Federated States of Micronesia and are part of USDA's efforts to support new and beginning farmers.

During his remarks at the Tribal Nations Conference, the Secretary announced additional support to Native communities including:

·        --  A $5.4 million loan to upgrade broadband service for residents of New Mexico's Mescalero Apache Reservation. This is the first telecommunications loan USDA has made under the Substantially Underserved Trust Area (SUTA) provision of the 2008 Farm Bill. Congress implemented SUTA to help USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) improve Tribal infrastructure including offering Tribal borrowers lower interest rates and extended payment terms for RUS loans. It also waives some requirements that applicants provide matching funds for approved projects.

·        --  28 loans and grants totaling $4.1 million to 1994 Land Grant Tribal Colleges through USDA Rural Development's Community Facilities program. This program provides loans and grants to construct, enlarge or improve community facilities for health care, public safety and public services.

·         -- Partnerships between USDA and three Tribal Colleges (Oglala Lakota College, Kyle, S.D.; Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, N.M.; and United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, N.D.) to provide grant writing assistance and other services to help traditionally underserved communities access federal resources as appropriate.

USDA has made significant investments in economic development, housing and infrastructure projects benefiting American Indians and Alaska Natives. More information is available at www.usda.gov/tribalrelations.

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