By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana Director, USDA Rural Development
A strong and prosperous agricultural sector is essential to the well-being of our state’s economy. To keep a competitive agricultural sector, USDA supports farmers’ ability to start and maintain profitable businesses, as well as offer financial support to help producers prosper and thrive. USDA partners with rural communities and our stakeholders to strengthen the economic viability of farm operations.
Last Fiscal Year, USDA Rural Development invested more than $25 million in rural communities to help agriculture producers support the rural way of life. The programs that help agricultural producers with their operations are: the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Program, Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) Program, Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Socially-Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG), ReConnect Program, Community Facility (CF) Program, Farm Labor Housing (FLH) Program, and Business Cooperative Programs that provide loan guarantees, grants, and technical assistance to link producers to consumers and support farm operations.
Applications are now being accepted for the RBDG Program and the Reconnect Program to assist farmers with their operations. The RBDG is designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas which will employ 50 or fewer employees. For example, Coastal Communities Consultants received a $100,000 RBDG to assist local commercial fishermen and entrepreneurs with technical assistance in the seafood processing industry. The deadline to apply for this grant is March 29, 2019.
USDA launched the Reconnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. This program offers loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations to facilitate broadband deployment in areas of rural America without enough access to broadband. The delivery of broadband connection and high-quality services will enable technologies critical to rural communities, such as precision agriculture. USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by May 31), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 31 or later), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28).
Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower. The goal is to connect rural communities to support agricultural production, marketing, e-Commerce, health care, and education. Previous research by USDA has demonstrated that high-capacity broadband is critical to all aspects of rural prosperity, including the ability to grow farms, attract businesses, retain and develop talent, and support rural quality of life. More information about the ReConnect program may be found at http://reconnect.usda.gov.
It is important to keep you updated with the latest news. As you already know, we now have an enacted Fiscal Year 2019 continuing resolution that provides short-term funding for USDA Rural Development. As we continue an orderly start-up of our loan and grant activities for FY 2019, we thank you for your patience and support during the period in which our services were unavailable.
I know that the funding lapse may have created challenges for many of you and your organizations. We will be taking a proactive and customer-focused approach to prioritizing our activities so that we can resume normal operations as quickly as possible. As Rural Development stakeholders, we will be working closely with you to achieve this goal.
Thank you again for all that you do for rural communities and the state. I look forward to a great year for USDA Rural Development, made possible through our strong partnerships for rural America.
I look forward to hearing from you and we will continue to help our rural agriculture producers and communities with infrastructure investments, business needs, essential services, and affordable housing opportunities. To let us know how we can best serve your needs, please contact me at email@example.com or (318) 473-7921.