By Dr. Carrie Castille, USDA Rural Development State Director
Agriculture in Louisiana is vital and ranks in the top three industries along with petrochemical and tourism. However, agricultural producers and businesses in small rural areas, regardless of size or type, face countless challenges and need help connecting to resources to compete, expand, and create jobs. The survival of their operation is crucial to the future of the agricultural industry.
USDA is committed to helping agricultural producers and businesses involved in food production succeed. Through an array of programs, Rural Development provides loan guarantees, grants, and technical assistance to keep farmers profitable and create jobs. This includes processing plants, business development, homeownership, and community services in rural areas.
To enhance food opportunities in urban and rural communities, low-interest loans are available through the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan program that offers loan guarantees to producers in developing infrastructure to process, distribute, and market locally or regionally-produced food. Kleinpeter Farms Dairy processing facility built in 1955 has undergone continual improvements to increase product line and efficiency over the years. Kleinpeter received a $6.3 million Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan to refinance and purchase equipment to save jobs in a food desert portion of West Baton Rouge.
The primary objective of the Value-Added Producer Grant program (VAPG) is to help producers with value-added activities with processing of products to increase income. Funds may be used for planning or working activities. Grade A Crawfish, a small business in Cheneyville, received a $200,000 VAPG to improve packaging, marketing, and provide working capital to continue operating.
The Rural Business Development Grants program(RBDG) can assist by providing marketing and distribution ventures for farmers and businesses. Examples of eligible fund use are development of land, machinery, and working capital in rural areas. Rapides Community Ministry received a $175,000 RBDG to construct a farmer’s market in Boyce that will eliminate a food desert.
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grants and loans to agricultural producers and small businesses to purchase, install and construct energy-efficiency measures or produce on-farm renewable energy resources such as solar panels. Langlois Grocery received a $4,149 REAP Grant to make energy efficiency improvements to purchase and install LED lighting throughout the store. This project will realize $3,468 per year in savings and will replace 31,534 kWh (63%) per year, which is enough electricity to power three homes in New Roads.
The Business-Cooperative Programs promote the use of the cooperative form of business. Cooperatives market and distribute agricultural products and provide other services such as electricity, telecommunications, financial services, local foods, hardware, and building supplies.
USDA helps support opportunities like these in rural communities throughout the state to build prosperity. During the next few weeks and months – and throughout my term – I will be meeting with business owners, producers, community groups, elected officials and rural residents to hear your needs and concerns. I will be reaching out to you for your comments on what’s working – and what we can do better. Your input is extremely valuable. If you have any suggestions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (318) 473-7921.
I look forward to working with you to connect to resources, promote agriculture production, and ensure that rural businesses have what they need to prosper.