News Release
Release No.STELPRD4019799
ContactTammi Schone605-352-1102
Brookings, SD, Feb 28, 2013 --

@@USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan hosted two roundtable meetings in South Dakota this week to further USDA tribal consultation efforts and to obtain input from stakeholders on education and extension issues.  During the meetings, Merrigan said USDA is moving aggressively to promote business development in rural South Dakota and in Indian Country with a goal of creating new, sustainable jobs.

“The Obama Administration understands the important role and relationship USDA has with extension services, universities, youth, and Tribes.  Further strengthening the government-to-government relationship through consultations like these will establish a more meaningful process,” said Merrigan.  She added, “I am here today to listen to your thoughts and ideas about how the federal government can work with you to expand research, education, extension, and economic opportunities here in South Dakota.”

Attending the sessions were extension service representatives, 4-H youth leaders, representatives of non-profit corporations, and tribal leaders.  USDA is seeking input on providing Native American farmers, ranchers and small business owners with greater access to programs.

The first roundtable was held at South Dakota State University in Brookings to discuss research education, and extension programs and then at Ft. Thompson to discuss Tribal and economic development opportunities.  Merrigan noted that Indian Country continues to have substantial rates of unemployment, and chronic poverty.  She was joined at the meetings by Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Craig Schaunaman, Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Jeff Zimprich and Rural Development State Director Elsie Meeks.

“These roundtables are an opportunity to hear directly from leaders about how to grow the economy and to educate participants about USDA programs and other federal resources,” commented Meeks.  “Improving public access to USDA programs will support the South Dakota economy through business, housing, infrastructure needs, community, farming and ranching projects.” 

Besides the stop at South Dakota State University, the Deputy Secretary visited Hunkpati Investments, which has received business program support from USDA and provides capital, financial literacy education and supports self-sufficiency and self-determination throughout the community. She also toured the Lakota Foods facility located on the Lower Brule Reservation. Lakota Foods is the first and only Native American owned and operated organization producing, processing, packaging, and marketing popcorn that reflect its Native American origin. 

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.      

 USDA's investments support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has an active portfolio of more than $176 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. More information about USDA Rural Development can be found at