New support for bio-based manufacturing

USDA Undersecretary Doug O’Brien says there is a lot of potential for bio-based manufacturing in rural America, especially now. At a Senate Ag subcommittee hearing on regional approaches to rural development, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown asked about it, especially in places like Ohio, Indiana and other areas of the Midwest where standard manufacturing jobs are going away, “What do we do there? How do we plug that in – what that does for rural America, obviously with bio-based manufacturing – what it can do to build a manufacturing base in small town Midwest?

O’Brien agrees that bio-based manufacturing of plastics, resins, asphalt and the like, should and will be supported by leveraging funds under new provisions of the Farm Bill, “We think our responsibility is to support those local businesses and now, more and more, those local, regional strategies that are created from the grassroots and support them through our financing.”

Leveraging funds to build up rural communities is part of the new farm bill and O’Brien says the regional approach will help.

AUDIO: Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Under Secretary Doug O’Brien (3:00 mp3)

Farm bill supports REGIONAL development

The new farm bill has a new focus on rural development – targeting REGIONAL areas for rural development incentives.  Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns is on a subcommittee panel that held a hearing Thursday in Washington, D.C.  He said, “By setting aside 10% of funds from rural community facilities, utilities and businesses and cooperative development categories – these fund are targeted specifically toward multi-jurisdictional projects.”

Johanns says the funds will provide incentives for communities to work together to improve infrastructure and address other economic issues. But, he says, it should be tempered by the government lightening the regulatory burden for rural communities.

AUDIO: Senate Ag Subcommittee hearing. Part 1 (51:00 min.)

AUDIO: Senate Ag Subcommittee hearing. Part 2 (40:00 mp3)

USDA fund to seek private funds for rural business

The USDA has begun a new $150 Million investment fund to grow small businesses in rural areas and create more jobs using public AND private funding.   Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) – involves pledges from eight Farm Credit institutions and will be managed by Advantage Capital Partners, “The bottom line here is about a new way to do business for government where we facilitate and bridge and leverage as opposed to solely relying on government financing to do it all.”

Vilsack says the fund will allow investments and job growth in rural businesses such as advanced energy production, food systems, bio-manufacturing and more by engaging private equity firms.

AUDIO: Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson with Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack (3:00 mp3)

Missouri biogas-to-fuel project underway

A big renewable biogas project is underway in north Missouri. Murphy-Brown of Missouri – formerly Premium Standard Farms – has partnered with Roeslein Alternative Energy, to capture biogas from hog manure and turn it into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and (CNG) for use as a transport fuel. Bill Homann with Murphy Brown of Missouri says the project will allow them to extend the use of impermeable lagoon covers to 90 of their hog farms, “Then that will function in the future as a digester and so we’ll have, basically, ninety digesters capturing gas in our finishing facilities in North Missouri.”  Sheldon Ripson with Roeslein Alternative Energy says anaerobic digestion is not new but it is underutilized in the United States and there IS a market for it.

Interview with Bill Homann and Sheldon Ripson in Brownfield Ag News Studios (15:00 mp3)

Opportunities in agriculture

There are a lot of opportunities in agriculture, but Cate Sprout, human resources staffing manager at CHS says there is currently a lack of talent available. Sprout says companies like CHS are once again competing with family farms, which means looking at non-traditional students and other professionals to fill available positions. But there is another place CHS is turning to for potential employees, the U.S. military, which has in place a military recruiting campaign called “Soldiers for Hire.”

Audio: Cate Sprout, CHS (8:40 mp3)

Rural job development funds in 17 states

Funding to bolster job opportunities in rural areas is being distributed in 17 states. The USDA’s Rural Development agency is providing more than $12 Million in rural economic development loan and grant programs for those projects.

Lillian Salerno, the USDA’s Rural Business Cooperative Service Administrator, outlines some of the projects.

In Missouri…

“The Justine Peterson Housing Reinvestment Corporation – which is a loan amount of $750-thousand and those funds will be used to establish a revolving loan fund to assist small businesses. And, then, the second one in Missouri is for the Missouri Research Corporation – which the loan amount is $1-Million – and funds will be used to establish a revolving loan fund to assist small businesses in Southeast Missouri.”

In Wisconsin…

“That grant goes to the was to the Polk-Burnett Electric Cooperative and that was to support funds to construct a fire station for a fire-fighting association that serves six townships.”

In South Dakota…

“To the West River Foundation for $750-thousand dollars in loans and those funds will be used to provide loans to public and non-profit organizations to re-lend for business and community development projects. These projects are anticipated to save – save or create – approximately 100 jobs.”

In Ohio…

“To the Neighborhood Development Services, Incorporated and these funds will be used to provide loans to public and non-profit organizations to re-lend for business and community development projects in Summit and Portage Counties.”

Salerno made the announcement on behalf of Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday at the National Veterans Small Business Conference in St. Louis.

AUDIO: Interview with Lillian Salerno (6:00 mp3) 

Rural Development funds going to small businesses

Fifty-million dollars is being made available to more than 70 rural businesses last week by the USDA’s Rural Development agency, during National Small Business week. Acting Under Secretary of Rural Development, Doug O’Brien, says they work directly with small town community banks and farm credit institutions that want to provide those loans.

“But, they can’t do it because of the risk profile of that loan. What we’re able to do at USDA is provide a guarantee to that small town community bank of 70-or-80% so that they are able to take that risk, to work with that small business so that they can expand and create jobs.”

O’Brien says rural small businesses, many of which provide products and services to farmers, are the “engines” of local economies.

Businesses receiving loans and grants include hotels, restaurants and manufacturers. O’Brien says two out of three jobs created in the U.S. are from small businesses.

Loans are contingent upon conditions being met.  Among the projects to be funded include the refinancing of debt and construction of a 500-thousand bushel grain bin and working capital to purchase gas station convenience stores.

AUDIO: Doug O’Brien (8:00 mp3)

 USDA Rural Development recipients

USDA program expands into more rural poverty spots

The USDA is expanding its program to help local communities in poverty stricken rural areas with economic development and job creation. Speaking in Columbia, South Carolina, on Tuesday, Ag Secretary TomVilsack said, “When people think of poverty they often think in terms of inner city poverty and certainly there is a good deal of that but oftentimes people fail to realize that 90% of the persistently poor counties are actually located in rural areas.”  The “StrikeForce” Initiative is adding 10 more states to the existing six where it’s already in play.

AUDIO: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack (5:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Tom Vilsack, Q & A (3:00 mp3)

~Thanks to our sister network SCRN – South Carolina Radio Network – for the audio~

StrikeForce expands to address rural poverty

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn

The USDA is expanding its program to help local communities in poverty stricken rural areas with economic development and job creation. Speaking in Columbia, South Carolina, on Tuesday, Vilsack said, “When people think of poverty they often think in terms of inner city poverty and certainly there is a good deal of that but oftentimes people fail to realize that 90% of the persistently poor counties are actually located in rural areas.”

The “StrikeForce” Initiative is adding 10 more states to the existing six where it’s already in play. The program has all USDA divisions partnering with local groups – and Vilsack says it’s been a success. He points to the increase in Farm Service Agency direct loans for farmers.

“Even when at sometimes and at some places the overall direct loan applications were going down – applications in StrikeForce areas were going up, meaning more credit and more opportunities particularly for beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers,” says Vilsack.

The StrikeForce program is being expanded to include South and North Carolina, South and North Dakota, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Utah and Virginia. It began in 2010 with Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi and expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada in 2011.

USDA’s StrikeForce is in play in rural areas of persistent poverty – with more than a 20-percent poverty level. Some of its projects include increasing access to healthy foods.

AUDIO: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack (5:00 mp3)

AUDIO: Tom Vilsack, Q & A (3:00 mp3)

~Audio and photo courtesy of our sister network SCRN – South Carolina Radio Network~

Merrigan meets with SD tribal officials

Tribal leaders in South Dakota have met with USDA Deputy Ag Secretary Kathleen Merrigan this week at South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings, SD and at Fort Thompson to discuss research, education and extension programs and economic development opportunities. Merrigan says USDA wants to extend program opportunities in impoverished tribal areas.  In addition, Merrigan visited an investment company and the Lakota foods facility which is the only Native American owned and operated popcorn production operation.

Merrigan meets with tribal leaders in South Dakota