APHIS Publications Available Online

Looking for information on how to deal with feral hog damage? How about an update on coyotes?

All the publications currently available from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are available on their Web site at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/ They are organized into the following categories: APHIS General Information, Animal Health, Plant Health, Biotechnology, Wildlife Damage, and Animal Welfare. Whenever possible, publications are made available in both English and Spanish.

You may order copies of an APHIS Publication through the APHIS Publications Ordering System. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery of your items. If you have any questions about your order, contact us at APHIS.Publications@aphis.usda.gov.

NRCS receives feedback on the ‘Field Office of the Future’

In the spring of 2012, the National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) took a bold step to plan for the agency’s future based on projected impacts of environmental challenges, customer needs, budget constraints, and new technology.

Chief Dave White issued the call to action during a national video conference with NRCS State Conservationists and partners, asking each state to develop a plan for structuring the field office of the future to deliver efficient and effective services over the next three to five years.

In Virginia, NRCS sought input from a broad cross section of individuals using a variety of methods. NRCS employees, soil and water conservation districts and state partners provided comments through an online questionnaire while landowners sent their responses through the mail. NRCS and district employees, members of the State Technical Committee, and Soil and Water Conservation Districts leaders provided their input during facilitated discussions at regional and state meetings. Virginia Farm Bureau also hosted three facilitated meetings for farmers. In addition to comments from the various sessions, NRCS received 323 responses from individuals.

Here are the top responses from landowners, partners and employees.

The most important service that NRCS provides is technical assistance. Environmental regulations and the complexity of modern agriculture have led to a need for high quality, reliable technical assistance. Landowners need a locally trained and highly qualified person (regardless of the agency) who has a high level of decision making authority and is:

  • Equipped with appropriate technology and equipment
  • Knowledgeable about agriculture and government programs
  • Accessible and able to build a relationship of trust with clients
  • Networked with other technical experts
 The top three resource concerns are: water quality, soil quality degradation and soil erosion.

Need to reduce paperwork and bureaucracy. Field staff and landowners are overwhelmed with paperwork and bureaucracy. Thirty-five percent of respondents indicated that contract paperwork was complicated, time-consuming and, in many cases, redundant.

  • Keep boots on the ground and the staff who support those boots.
  • Limit or eliminate paper files if security and privacy can be maintained. Provide electronic files and let the cooperator choose if he or she wants to print them.
  • Electronic data sharing can save time for USDA and the client.
  • Flexibility is important. Landowners, employees and partners feel results are more important than rigid standards.

A physical office is beneficial to maintaining programs but is secondary as a financial priority.

  • The number one choice for landowners (28 percent) and partners (50 percent) is to establish regional offices with staff working part time from alternate work sites.
  • The number one choice for employees (27 percent) is to have fewer offices with more staff.
  • Offices should be strategically located to reduce travel time and centrally located for meeting and administrative activities.
  • Regional offices can provide support staff such as agronomists, soil scientists, engineers, and administrative assistants.
  • Mobile staff with communications technology is acceptable if there is a regional office.
  • Vehicles fitted with office equipment for mobility are an acceptable option if the equipment is functional.
  • Staff working part-time out of their homes to cut costs is an option but not preferred.
Technology – While 86 percent of farmers feel that NRCS currently has the information technology to move into the future, 57 percent of our employees have significant IT concerns. Top issues are listed below.
  • Internet and cell service is not available everywhere and operates very slowly in rural areas.
  • Agencies need to be on the same computer system to be effective.
  • Backup systems and increased IT support are lacking.
  • Younger customers are more likely to use computers, so NRCS needs to keep pace with the customer on IT services offered or required.
Division of Staff Time – NRCS field staff need to spend more time in the field. About 70 percent of field employees indicate they spend less than 25 percent of their time in the field because of administrative and contracting responsibilities. As a result, follow-up with landowners suffers. Most field employees think they should spend 55-85 percent of their time in the field.

Suggestions for Cost Savings – If budget cuts occur, they need to be across the agency, not just at the field level; we need boots on the ground. Other comments included:

  • Individualize each office based on location, workload, census data, and cost effectiveness.
  • Provide electronic files and allow electronic signatures if data can be protected.
  • Consolidate and/or reduce the number of programs; keep those that provide the most “bang for the buck.”
  • Establish a USDA kiosk in every county staffed by a knowledgeable local Ag agency person to report and update USDA records, enter technical service requests, and explain and take applications for programs.
  • When making farm visits, assemble all decision makers at the site and prepare in advance to improve efficiency for technical service providers and the landowner.
Technical Service Providers – Producers are willing to pay small amounts for technical assistance. If cuts must be made to landowner services, customers prefer for NRCS to continue to provide conservation planning, soils and engineering; let the landowner pay TSPs to install and supervise installation of practices. Other concerns include:
  • Uncoordinated service could lead to biases, different standards and lack of uniformity.
  • An accreditation program is needed for non-government TSPs.

Ag Secretary Vilsack Visits Virginia Farm Bureau to Announce New and Expanded Access to Credit for Farmers

Vilsack attends roundtable at
Virginia Farm Bureau

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Virginia Farm Bureau building yesterday to announce that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made substantial, year-over-year gains in expanding credit opportunities for farmers and ranchers across the United States. The increase in farm and operating loans has helped improve farmer and rancher productivity, launched new start-up operations, and ensured opportunities in agriculture for many more Americans. With expanded access to credit, USDA is helping a new generation of farmers sustain and build upon what is now the most productive period in history for American agriculture. To that end, Vilsack announced the Department is seeking comments on a new microloan program to help small and family operations progress through their start-up years with needed resources, while building capacity, increasing equity, and eventually graduating to commercial credit.

“Over the past three years, we have expanded farm and operating loans to Americans from all backgrounds to help raise a new crop of producers across the country,” said Vilsack. “As we expand options in agriculture, we’re seeing a new vibrancy across the countryside as younger people—many of whom are now involved in local and regional production—pursue livelihoods in farming, raising food for local consumption. By leveraging USDA’s lending programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and smaller producers, we’re helping to rebuild and revitalize our rural communities.”

In the past three years, USDA has provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6 billion, and under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, the department is expanding the availability of farm credit with a special focus on beginning farmers and ranchers, as well as socially disadvantaged producers:

•Since 2008, the number of loans to beginning farmers and ranchers has climbed from 11,000 to 15,000. More than 40 percent of USDA’s farm loans now go to beginning farmers;

•Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. USDA has increased lending to socially-disadvantaged producers by nearly 50 percent since 2008.

•The total value of loans in persistent-poverty counties is 60 percent higher today than in 2010.

USDA farm loans can be used to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed, and supplies, or to construct buildings or make farm improvements. For beginning farmers and ranchers, USDA provides affordable credit, including loans under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program and Youth Loans. In addition, USDA provides grants under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The establishment of a coordinating office for USDA beginning farmer programs has supported education and training for more than 15,000 beginning farmers and ranchers.

As part of ongoing efforts to streamline and modernize its service to American agriculture, Vilsack announced today that USDA is also seeking comments on a proposal to improve its Operating Loan Program to better meet the needs of small farmers with a new microloan program. Under the microloan proposal, producers who need a loan for less than $35,000 may apply using simplified and streamlined procedures. The program will cut the required paperwork in half and simplify the process to obtain a loan. The goal of the microloan program is to better meet the credit needs of small farm operations while making more effective use of FSA resources. Small farmers often rely on credit cards or personal loans, which carry high interest rates and have less flexible payment schedules, to finance their operations. The improvements aim to offer a more efficient processing time for smaller loans, adding flexibility to some of the eligibility requirements and reducing the application requirements.

The proposed rule may be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/05/25/2012-12685/microloan-operating-loans or through the FSA home page at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/. Comments should be submitted no later than July 23, 2012 by either of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.

Mail: Director, Loan Making Division (LMD), FSA, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Stop 0522, Washington, DC 20250-0522.

Following is a breakdown of the loans to socially-disadvantaged producers in fiscal years (FY) 1999, 2008 and 2011, respectively:

FY99 Direct Loans
Loans 4,005
Volume $296 million

FY08 Direct Loans
Loans 4,281
Volume $379.4 million

FY11 Direct Loans
Loans 5,901
Volume $565.4 million

Overall Socially Disadvantaged Producer Loan Portfolio*
Individuals 15,906 16,910 18,114
Dollars $1.53 billion $1.97 billion $2.35 billion
(*guaranteed and direct)

Through USDA’s Strike Force Initiative, the department is helping to relieve persistent poverty in high poverty counties by accelerating assistance and improving participation in and access to our programs and services. Since Strike Force began, Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans have helped hundreds of minority producers in high-poverty counties in states with large populations of minority farmers and ranchers. Already in 2012, USDA has made 513 direct loans totaling nearly $45 million to producers in Strike Force counties—a 60-percent increase over the same period last year. Of the total, 74 percent of the loans have gone to beginning and socially disadvantaged producers. More information about the loans to Strike Force counties can be found below.

Following is a breakdown of the loans to producers in the Strike Force states in FY 2011 and 2012:

FY11 FY12

Arkansas
Number of Direct Loans 59 97
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $4,426,410 $9,113,450
Number of Guaranteed Loans 48 57
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $17,085,250 $22,261,980

Colorado
Number of Direct Loans 70 97
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $5,257,995 $8,474,330
Number of Guaranteed Loans 34 20
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $10,507,304 $8,192,600

Georgia
Number of Direct Loans 126 175
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $13,517,331 $18,533,690
Number of Guaranteed Loans 68 53
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $25,631,623 $19,035,270

Mississippi
Number of Direct Loans 68 97
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $3,330,945 $6,106,360
Number of Guaranteed Loans 16 20
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $7,049,638 $7,125,000

Nevada
Number of Direct Loans 28 41
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $1,637,300 $1,874,760
Number of Guaranteed Loans 7 1
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $2,869,000 $80,000

New Mexico
Number of Direct Loans 0 6
Direct Loan Amount in Dollars $0 $755,000
Number of Guaranteed Loans 0 0
Guaranteed Loan Amount in Dollars $0 $0

USDA, land grant universities celebrate 150 years

Photo by Ken Hammond

Abraham Lincoln signed the law to establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture 150 years ago this week. He called the new agency “The People’s Department.” That’s a fitting name for USDA because it affects every American every day in ways most people don’t realize.

 “The American Farm Bureau Federation congratulates Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and USDA on the department’s 150th anniversary. President Abraham Lincoln is known for many achievements during his lifetime, but a little known triumph of his—that affects all Americans—was the establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture 150 years ago today,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said.

USDA’s 100,000 employees plus are spread out all over the world and the work that they do runs the gamut from the most basic kind of research in how to approve crop production to ensuring that those who are less fortunate have enough food on the table.

Here are a few facts about USDA:

  •  One in 7 Americans is now receiving some form of nutrition assistance through USDA’s programs to help get them through this downturn in the economy.
  • USDA serves breakfast and lunch to 32 million kids a day through the school lunch program, provides thousands of rural business loans each year and conducts research in renewable energy to lessen our reliance on foreign oil.
  • Meat, poultry and a good part of the egg production in this country is inspected for safety and wholesomeness by the Food Safety Inspection Service. They also, through the Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service, protect against animal and plant diseases and pests.

“The research component is what has given the United States a comparative advantage throughout the world in terms of being able to meet the demands for a growing population on the food production side,” said Dale Moore, AFBF’s Deputy Executive Director of Public Policy who was a senior staff members at USDA for eight years “Not just in raising more crops or raising more pounds of livestock, but also to do that more economically in ways that can better deal with what Mother Nature may throw at a producer when they’re trying to raise those commodities.”

Moore continued, “USDA is literally the only federal agency that can build a town from the ground up. You take its rural development mission and all the different loans whether it’s water and sewer, power , other forms of energy, schools, churches, hospitals, the whole infrastructure part of the process as well as business and economic development. You’ve obviously got the farm program areas, the Farm Service Agency and when when you take into account the Extension agents, you take into account the conservation work, the Forest Service work, you’ve got an agency that literally has a presence in virtually every county in the United States.”

In the same year that USDA was created, Abraham Lincoln also signed another very important piece of legislation – The Morrill Act of 1862. This Act created our land grant universities. Virginia is very fortunate to have two land grant universities – Virginia Tech (established as a land grant in 1872) and Virginia State University (established as land grant in 1920).

The Morrill Act granted vast holdings of federal lands to states based on the size of their congressional delegations. The lands were to be sold to provide an endowment for the establishment of “at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as related to agriculture and the mechanic arts…in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

The rationale for the creation of land grant universities was to provide educational opportunities where members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education. It was an educational system to emphasis emerging applied sciences – particularly agriculture science and engineering.

“Lincoln understood the importance of agriculture to America, and, as importantly, he realized science and technology played a major role in the farming industry,” Stallman said.