S.D. included in USDA “StrikeForce” initiative

Farm Forum

Huron – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch its ”StrikeForce” initiative in 10 additional states, including South Dakota. Bennett, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Corson, Dewey, Gregory, Jackson, Lyman, Mellette, Roberts, Shannon, Todd and Ziebach Counties are included in the StrikeForce initiative.

“During my travels across the country, I’ve heard mayors and other community leaders say they have a hard time competing for USDA loan and grant programs. They have a plan to develop a new business or create jobs in their regions, but they lack development capital and they view our application and review processes as a barrier,” said Vilsack. “StrikeForce changes that. By increasing outreach and technical assistance to communities, we can serve as better partners and help communities leverage resources.”

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works directly with individual producers and Tribal entities to help them conserve, maintain, and improve their natural resources.” says Jeff Zimprich, S.D. State Conservationist. He notes that “NRCS has been successful in providing technical and financial assistance for conservation activities in those areas targeted in the StrikeForce initiative and anticipates that increased outreach and developing new partnerships will result in even better utilization of our agencies technical and financial resources.”

“Although USDA Rural Development finances many projects on South Dakota’s reservations, being designated as a StrikeForce state to work on tribal lands compels us to become more strategic in bringing access of all Rural Development’s programs to reservations. For example, one of our initiatives will be to create a network to provide more opportunities for homeownership on tribal lands,” said Elsie Meeks, Rural Development State Director.

“Through the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Farm Loan Programs we serve as the lender of first opportunity for many tribal members who are starting or growing their individual ranching and farming operations,” said Craig Schaunaman, FSA State Executive Director.

The “StrikeForce” initiative started as a pilot project in 2010 in selected regions in three states: Arkansas, Georgia and Mississippi. In 2011 it was expanded to include Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Now, Secretary Vilsack has announced new efforts to bring the StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity to Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

In the StrikeForce initiative, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation.

The money has already helped Larry Harris, who has operated a small farm in South Carolina’s Sumter County for about 15 years. Harris says he used to farm row crops such as soybeans and corn but, several years ago, learned of a USDA-funded program that could help him build a well to irrigate more profitable specialty vegetable crops. Harris is bound by a contract with USDA to use the well for irrigation for three years. After that, he can use the well as he sees fit. Others have come to see his setup and get ideas for their own projects, Harris said.

“The StrikeForce initiative is helping us direct additional resources to better serve producers in persistent poverty rural communities,” said Vilsack. “We are focusing on these identified high poverty counties to help improve the quality of life of producers and to accelerate implementation of conservation practices on their land.”

Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien is scheduled to visit South Dakota in April. O’Brien will host a Tribal Round Table during the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance (SDIBA) conference being held in Rapid City, April 10 – 12th.

Participants in the StrikeForce include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nutrition Service and other USDA offices and agencies.