USDA Highlights Projects and Partnerships for Economic Prosperity
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is celebrating the end of 2023 by showcasing on-the-ground initiatives and collaborations that are driving economic growth for farmers, families, and communities across the country. Thanks to President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and its substantial investments in rural America, USDA has been able to support thousands of farmers, connect rural communities to the internet, combat climate change, boost small businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers.
A New Approach to Agricultural Policies
“For too long, America’s agricultural policies have favored large-scale farming, which has weakened the local economies tied to small and mid-sized farms. We are witnessing the impact of a new approach that better addresses the real needs of rural communities, and the results are promising,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Throughout the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA has made significant strides in creating new markets for farmers, providing opportunities while addressing climate change, and building stronger infrastructure for prosperous farms and communities. In 2023, we began to see these changes take shape, providing momentum for our work in 2024.”
Supporting Farmers in Financial Distress
As of December 2023, USDA has assisted over 30,000 farmers and ranchers facing financial difficulties, enabling them to continue operating and increase their revenue. This support is made possible through Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated $3.1 billion for USDA to provide relief to distressed borrowers with direct and guaranteed loans. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has already provided approximately $1.7 billion in immediate assistance. Additionally, USDA has streamlined loan application processes, reducing the number of pages and simplifying the application for greater accessibility, particularly for those in remote areas.
Connecting Rural Communities
Through the ReConnect Program, USDA has made historic investments in closing the digital divide in rural America. In 2023, USDA awarded over $1.8 billion for 96 projects, benefiting more than 250,000 people in rural communities. These projects will provide high-speed internet access to over 11,000 farms, 7,300 rural businesses, and nearly 500 educational facilities, empowering them to thrive in the digital age. The majority of these awards were made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which allocated funds to connect over 300,000 rural Americans.
Record Enrollment in Conservation and clean energy Programs
USDA has achieved record enrollment in voluntary conservation programs, enrolling more farmers and acres than ever before. In 2023, nearly 5,300 additional producers joined the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs across all 50 states. The Inflation Reduction Act provided $19.5 billion over 5 years for popular conservation programs, such as the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). USDA has also seen increased interest in its Conservation Reserve Program, supporting climate-smart agriculture and forestry on working lands. Additionally, through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), USDA has invested over $362 million to help farmers and rural small businesses access renewable energy systems, reducing energy costs and strengthening their operations.
Protecting Communities from Wildfire and Increasing Tree Canopy
In Fiscal Year 2023, USDA’s Forest Service achieved significant milestones in addressing the wildfire crisis, treating millions of acres of national forest lands to reduce the risk of wildfires. The agency also announced the first round of Community Wildfire Defense Grant Awards, investing $197 million in 100 projects across 22 states and seven tribes impacted or threatened by wildfires. Additionally, USDA has invested over $1 billion to plant and maintain trees, combat extreme heat and climate change, and improve access to nature in urban communities across all 50 states.
Supporting Small Businesses through USDA Food Purchases
In Fiscal Year 2023, USDA increased its purchases from small businesses for domestic nutrition programs, such as school meal programs and emergency food providers. Over 63% of USDA’s purchases came from small businesses, an 8% increase from the previous year. This demonstrates USDA’s commitment to diversifying its procurement contracts and supporting small-scale vendors.
Read More of this Story at newtoncountytimes.com – 2024-01-06 13:00:00
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