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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development is committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Through a series of public laws and acts enacted by Congress, Rural Development is designed to enhance rural communities by targeting financial and technical resources to areas of greatest need.

USDA Rural Development is divided into three agencies with unique missions to bring prosperity and opportunity to rural areas – Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service and Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

Rural Housing Service

USDA’s Rural Housing Service offers a variety of programs to build or improve housing and essential community facilities in rural areas. We offer loans, grants and loan guarantees for single- and multi-family housing, child care centers, fire and police stations, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, schools, first responder vehicles and equipment, housing for farm laborers and much more.

We also provide technical assistance loans and grants in partnership with non-profit organizations, Indian tribes, state and federal government agencies and local communities.

USDA’s Single Family Housing Programs provide direct loans or loan guarantees to help low- and moderate-income rural Americans buy safe, affordable housing in rural areas. USDA also offers loans and grants to help rural residents make health and safety repairs to homes.

USDA’s Multi-Family Housing Programs offer loans to provide affordable rental housing for very-low-, low- and moderate-income residents, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Funds also may be used to buy and improve land and to provide necessary facilities such as water and waste disposal systems.

In addition, USDA offers rental assistance to help eligible rural residents with their monthly rental costs.

USDA’s Community Facilities Programs provide loans, grants and loan guarantees for essential community facilities in rural areas. Priority is given to health care, education and public safety projects. Typical projects are hospitals, health clinics, schools, fire houses, community centers, first responder vehicles and equipment and many other community-based initiatives.

Rural utilities service

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) administers programs that provide much-needed infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities. These include water and waste treatment, electric power and telecommunications services.

Utilities programs connect rural residents to the global economy by increasing access to broadband and 21st century telecommunications services; funding sustainable renewable energy development and conservation; financing reliable and affordable electric systems; working to integrate electric smart grid technologies; and developing reliable and affordable rural water and wastewater systems.

Water and Environmental Programs

Water and Environmental Programs (WEP) provides loans, grants and loan guarantees for drinking water, sanitary sewer, solid waste and storm drainage facilities in rural areas and cities and towns of 10,000 or less. Public bodies, non-profit organizations and recognized Indian tribes may qualify for assistance.

WEP also makes grants to non-profit organizations to provide technical assistance and training to help rural communities with their water, wastewater and solid waste problems.

Electricity

The Electric Program provides capital and leadership to maintain, expand, upgrade and modernize America’s vast rural electric infrastructure. The loans and loan guarantees finance the construction or improvement of electric distribution, transmission and generation facilities in rural areas.

The Electric Program also provides funding to support demand-side management, energy efficiency and conservation programs, and on- and off-grid renewable energy systems.

Loans are made to cooperatives, corporations, states, territories, subdivisions, municipalities, utility districts and non-profit organizations.

Telecommunications

The Telecommunications Program improves the quality of life in rural America by providing capital for the deployment of rural telecommunications infrastructure. USDA Rural Development is committed to ensuring that rural areas have access to affordable, reliable, advanced telecommunications services comparable to those available throughout the rest of the United States.

With this access, rural America will see improved educational opportunities, health care, safety and security and ultimately, higher employment.

Rural Business-Cooperative Service

USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service offers programs to support business development and job training opportunities for rural residents.

Our programs help provide the capital, technical support, educational opportunities and entrepreneurial skills that can help rural residents start and grow businesses or access jobs in agricultural markets and in the bio-based economy.

USDA and our public and private partners are connecting rural residents to the global economy by supporting business growth and development; facilitating sustainable renewable energy development; developing regional food systems; generating and retaining jobs through recreation and natural resource restoration, conservation, and management; and increasing access to broadband.

These investments support the nation’s long-term prosperity by ensuring that rural communities are self-sustaining, repopulating and thriving economically.

Business programs

Through its business programs, Rural Development helps provide much-needed capital in rural areas, often in partnership with private-sector lenders and community-based organizations.

The capital may be in the form of loan guarantees, direct loans or grants to individuals, rural businesses, cooperatives, farmers and ranchers, public bodies, non-profit corporations, Native American Tribes and private companies. The funding is intended to help improve the quality of life in rural communities by enhancing economic opportunities.

Cooperation

USDA’s Cooperative Programs promote the understanding and use of the cooperative form of business. Cooperatives market and distribute agricultural products and supplies and provide other services such as electricity, telecommunications, credit and financial services, housing, food, hardware and building supplies.

USDA Rural Development helps rural residents form new cooperatives and improve the operations of existing ones through education, research, technical assistance, publications and funding. We collect financial and other data from farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives every year. This data is published in several reports, including a listing of almost 1,500 marketing, supply, service, fishery and bargaining cooperatives.

Community development

USDA’s Community Development Programs include programs, technical assistance and initiatives that help communities and regions to realize their strategic, long-term economic development goals.

Contact us at the USDA Rural Development office in Casper with questions or to get started on an application. We can be found at 100 East B Street, Room 1005 in Casper. Visit our website at rd.usda.og/wy to find specific office contacts, program information, read stories of success and more. If you have any other questions, feel free to call 307-233-6700 for more information.

The local food movement is burgeoning in Wyoming.

Consumers’ desire to know the origin and care of their food has created opportunities for small farmers in the Cowboy State to expand their businesses.

Traditionally, farmers’ markets scattered statewide have been the best way for buyers to know produce was grown locally. The system has swelled to more than 50 weekly events. Today, few towns lack a weekly summer market nearby, and some areas have several options.

The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, has aided that growth through a reimbursable grant designed to help local food advocates advertise and promote their farmers’ markets.

Wyoming farmers’ markets generate more than $506,730 in annual sales.

Meanwhile, farmers are finding new ways to reach consumers directly through community-supported agriculture. In the community-supported model, consumers buy subscriptions to farms, and farmers deliver weekly boxes of produce to them. Companies like WyoFresh are connecting wide swaths of farmers with buyers throughout central and southeastern Wyoming through online sales.

Other farms, like Evergreen Farm in western Wyoming and Meadow Maid Foods in southeastern Wyoming, target area restaurants and local grocery stores on their own.

“People are more conscious of healthy eating habits than ever before,” said Lisa Johnson, agribusiness director at the Business Council. “Eating local is part of that. Consumers know where and how food was raised, and they develop a relationship with the farmer.”

The Business Council has also supported a number of projects that boost demand for produce from area farmers.

A young Powell entrepreneur, Forrest Smith, built a high school project into an agricultural manufacturer called Gluten Free Oats. The company ships internationally to places like Australia, the United Kingdom and South America, in addition to wholesalers in the United States.”

The Business Council provided $1.6 million in grants to the city of Powell to help build a mill and warehouse for Gluten Free Oats. An estimated $1.6 million will be returned to the community for future economic development.

Gluten Free Oats’ recent expansion has created increased demand for gluten-free oats raised by area farmers.

“Companies like Gluten Free Oats introduce Wyoming food and products to the rest of the world,” said Leah Bruscino, Business Council director of field operations and northwest regional director. “That’s new money coming into our state’s economy. Those exports also represent a new revenue stream for local businesses.”

On the other side of the state, Wyoming Malting Company just started construction on a 20,000 square-foot manufacturing and warehousing facility in Pine Bluffs. The Business Council contributed a $3.4 million grant and loan package to Laramie County for the project. In exchange, Wyoming Malting will create nine jobs. The facility will have the capacity to produce 600,000 pounds of malt a year from area grain farmers. That product can then be sold to the dozens of brewers and distillers in Wyoming or the hundreds of craft alcohol makers in Colorado.

A portion of the malt will also be used to make the company’s own craft whiskey. Waste products can be sold as feed to local farms.

“This is one of those examples of a project taking advantage of multiple strengths in Wyoming’s economy. It’s agriculture, it’s manufacturing, it’s adding value to local products,” said Heather Tupper, Business Council southeast regional director. “Wyoming Malting touches on many different industries, and it’s going to boost businesses in many different regions of the state.”

“Most of Wyoming is known for its vast expanses, but there are still some places that find themselves landlocked. Jackson Hole is one of those locations, but entrepreneurs there still saw an opportunity to meet demand for locally grown produce,” she continued.

Vertical Harvest is a three-story hydroponic greenhouse occupying 4,500 square feet built on the side of a parking garage in the middle of town. The Business Council supported the project with a $1.5 million grant to the town of Jackson.

Founders Nona Yehia and Penny McBride said the recently opened operation will produce 20 varieties of fresh food year-round in one of the harshest climates and highest elevations in Wyoming. The company already employs 20 workers. 

A first-floor market will sell produce, local crafts and art. Most of the produce is already spoken for by local restaurants like Snake River Grill and Café Genevieve, along with grocery stores like Aspens Market and Jackson Whole Grocer and Café.

“Agriculture has always been a vital part of Wyoming’s economy,” Johnson said. “The new emphasis on eating local food is just an extension of that. It brings money to our farmers, our restaurants and our towns.”

The Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) held a teleconference meeting on April 7 at 2 p.m. where they continued their discussions of legislative action from the recent session.

  As a quick review of legislative action that affected WLSB, Senate File (SF) 147 amends the language in Wyoming Statute (WS) 11-20-408(b). This statute refers in part to WLSB's ability to raise fees. Current statute allows the board to adjust fees, “… not more than one (1) time per fiscal year and by not more than 20 percent in any one fiscal year…”

This has changed from 20 to 25 percent and becomes law on Oct. 1, 2017.

The next impact was inside the supplemental budget bill in reference to our agency budget. In June 2016, WLSB responded to the Governor’s recommendation for all agencies to find an eight percent cut to our General Fund appropriation. Included in these was a cut to our Brand Inspection General Fund appropriation of $558,936. The Joint Appropriation Committee (JAC) accepted all these cuts and added an additional cut of $500,000 to the Brand General Fund for fiscal 2018. These cuts of $1,558,936 will carry forward into the next biennium, as well.

Inside our budget in the supplemental bill, JAC, removed funding for three of our four criminal investigators, beginning Jan. 1, 2018. In short, that means next year we have one criminal investigator for the entire state. 

As a result of these actions, the board discussed and voted to approve several actions.

The board has prepared a rulemaking for the Chapter 9 rules, “Brand Inspection/Recording Fees.”

WLSB is offering an amendment to the rule to make a 10 percent, with rounding of odd amounts, increase to all inspection and recording fees, to sunset on Aug. 15, 2018. This increase with a sunset date allows for two results. 

First, in an effort to be fiscally prudent, this increase will capture some offset of the cuts of this year by allowing the agency to have the moderate increase, in effect, for this fall shipping period. 

  Second, the sunset date has allowed the board to form a committee of board members and producers to review possible adjustments to the program going forward. After review of the speed of burn of the revenue fund, as it has taken on many of the costs of the previous cuts, and the defunding of three of the investigators, we realize that lowered expenditures and new efficiencies are required to perform our mandates. We believe that this committee, with producer input, will provide the board the information it needs to make the proper decisions for the future. 

The amended rules are authorized by WS 11-18-103(v), WS 11-20-201 through WS 11-20-229 and WS 11-20-401 through WS 11-20-409.

These rules establish the fees charged for brand inspection and brand recording in compliance with WS 11-20-103, WS 11-20-115, WS 11-20-116, WS 11-20-217, WS 11-20-401 and WS 11-20-402. The Chapter 9 rules currently in effect were revised in 2013. 

In the 2017 legislative session, there were significant cuts to the program. The intent of the Legislature was that these cuts in General Funding were to be offset, at least partially, by increases in user fees, as evidenced by the passing of Enrolled Act 34, which increases the board’s ability to raise user fees in a fiscal year. Failure to increase fees will necessitate curtailing of services to livestock producers, which could hinder their ability to market livestock at the optimum time.

Fees have not been adjusted since 2013, when there was actually was a slight decrease in the in state accustomed range permits. Fees have not seen a significant increase since 2008. 

These amended rules are in the application process and should shortly be out for public comment.

There are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the earth.

Millions of species and billions of organisms – bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, fungi and more – represent the greatest concentration of biomass anywhere on the planet. Microbes, which make up only one-half of one percent of the total soil mass, are the yeasts, algae, protozoa, bacteria, nematodes and fungi that process organic matter into rich, dark, stable humus in the soil.

The best soil on most farms is found in the fencerow.

These undisturbed remnants of what soil properties were once like is no surprise to farmers who have dug into that soil. It’s crumbly, dark and loose, and it’s a model of soil structure and organic matter for farmers who are trying to make their soil healthier.

Tillage – or plowing – destroys the soil’s structure.

Tillage destroys “aggregation” or the soil’s structure, which is the habitat soil microorganisms depend upon to ensure critical soil functions like nutrient cycling. Tillage also reduces organic matter content and increases erosion, which reduces the sustainability of our food production system.

Tilling the soil up does not allow more water to soak into it.

Don’t believe it? Fill two containers with untilled and tilled soil and simulate rainfall on them. Watch the water stand on top of the tilled sample but soak down through the untilled sample.

Or, give them the slake test by placing clods of untilled and tilled soils on wire mesh at the top of water-filled jars. You’ll find if you submerge tilled soil just below the surface, it will soon collapse in a heap at the bottom of the jar, but untilled soil will still be intact, for the most part, even 24 hours later.

Tilling soils causes pores to collapse and seal over, causing more rain to runoff than soak in.

The Morrow Plots on the campus of the University of Illinois indicate soil organic matter content in prairie grass borders was 5.5 to 6.5 percent in 1876. Less than half of that is left. That’s the case with most prairie soils – oxidation of organic matter from tillage for row crops has reduced organic matter levels to between two to three percent today.

A farmer’s favorite cocktail mix might not be what you think.

Innovative farmers are breathing new life into their soil by seeding a “cocktail mix” of six to 12 plants to get diversity above-ground, which creates much-needed diversity below the ground. Through that diversity, farmers are mimicking the soil-building and microbial-friendly conditions of the diverse native prairies.

If you want your soil to be healthy, you shouldn’t see it very often.

That’s because you want that soil to be covered all the time, preferably with living plants. Keeping the soil covered all the time makes perfect sense when you realize that healthy soils are full of life. The microorganisms living in the soil need food and cover to survive – just like other living creatures.

Roots of some plants can grow three feet deep in 60 days.

That’s right, roots of daikon-type radishes are a biological alternative to deep ripping to alleviate soil compaction. After radishes winterkill, the channels created by the roots tend to remain open at the surface, improving infiltration, surface drainage and soil warming. The popular cover crop also is an excellent nitrogen scavenger.

What did President Thomas Jefferson know that we don’t? More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson, a farmer and conservationist, used vetch, turnips, peas and clover as cover crops and in rotation. He used these crops on his Virginia plantation to build soil that he knew was being depleted with his tobacco cash crop.

Multiple benefits come from multiple species. The below-ground synergy created by crop rotations and multi-species cover crops can actually accelerate biological time by increasing organic matter, allowing crops to flourish in dry times while monocultures struggle. And as an added bonus, diverse cover crop mixtures work together to crowd out weeds, improve nutrient cycling and reduce plant diseases.

For more information about soil health, go to nrcs.usda.gov.

Not far from the rocky peaks of Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, wildlife professionals with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Wildlife Services program unspooled miles of bright, red fladry.

Fladry is nylon flags attached to a poly wire and looks a bit like something you would see at a used-car lot, rather than a cattle ranch. However, it is one of the nonlethal tools that Wildlife Services uses to prevent wolves from preying on cattle.

Once unraveled, the fladry is clipped to fiberglass fence posts that are placed around the circumference of the more than 100-acre pasture. The fladry fence rises just above an adult human’s knees and about even with a curious wolf’s nose.

The highly visible flags flutter and flap in the wind, and solar-powered electric fence chargers are installed at various points around the fence to charge the wire with electricity. When the wire is electrified, it becomes turbo fladry.

  “Wolves are naturally nervous of new elements in their environment, and they will stay away until they realize the fluttering flags are not a threat,” said Mike Foster, Wildlife Services’ Wyoming state director. “However, if they get too close and touch the fence, they get a shock.”  

Since wolves were reintroduced into the Northern Rockies in the mid-1990s, their populations have increased substantially in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, sometimes resulting in livestock predation. In Wyoming, wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and their populations are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). When wolves prey on cattle and create conflicts for ranchers, FWS works with Wildlife Services to target and remove specific, problematic wolves.

Recently, Wildlife Services partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to install fladry on several pastures in Montana. Last fall, NRDC provided money and manpower to help with the installation of fladry on the ranch in Jackson Hole, which had been experiencing wolf depredation.

Zack Strong, the NRDC wildlife advocate who assisted with the project, added, “Fladry works well in the right situations. Working with ranchers and Wildlife Services to set up turbo fladry in Montana and Wyoming has been extremely rewarding, and we would welcome the opportunity to do so in other states, as well.”

The fladry was in place for about three weeks before it was taken down and the calves removed from the ranch. Radio collars from some of the wolves in the nearby pack indicated that the wolves may have left that area, and while the turbo fladry was in place, no calves were lost to depredation.

“There is no one thing we can do to prevent the loss of livestock in every situation,” said Foster. “I had high hopes for this project, and I am so glad we were able to prevent more losses on this ranch.”