July 21, 2010
On Tuesday, July 20, the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, Specialty Crops, and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing to assess progress on Rural Development program implementation and hear ideas from the field in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.
USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager emphasized the “five pillars” the agency believes can staunch rural out-migration and stimulate rural economic growth. He proposed: new export and local and regional markets for agricultural products, broadband, renewable energy production, outdoor recreation that conserves natural resources, and ecosystems markets for rural landowners.
Tonsager reiterated the Administration’s belief that regional approaches are a more effective way to deliver grant and loan investments, and suggested that Rural Development’s 40 programs might benefit from reorganization and streamlining. He also noted the agency is currently working on a report to Congress that should be ready in a few months concerning possible new “rural” definitions for USDA programs.
The second panel of five private sector and local agency witnesses addressed Rural Development’s housing, broadband, and business and cooperative programs. NSAC was invited to provide a witness on the panel, a seat at the table filled very well by Van Ayers, who sits on the Board of one of NSAC’s member groups, the Delta Land and Community in Arkansas, and is an Agriculture and Rural Development Specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
Ayers’ testimony concentrated on ways to make particular Rural Development programs more accessible to the farmers and ranchers. He addressed the Value-Added Producer Grants program, the Rural Energy for America Program, and the Community Facilities program. Ayers also suggested the creation of a national “enterprise facilitators” program to do the organizing and training necessary for producers to design successful rural businesses and access federal funds to support them.
One clear and consistent message from all the witnesses was that Rural Development should simplify and coordinate the application process for its programs. Chairman McIntyre noted that all the USDA staff had left the hearing before they could hear this message but promised that Subcommittee staff would pursue the issue with the Agency.