Huron, SD, Mar 27, 2013 -- 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. The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to increase partnership with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty communities. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.
“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. The NRCS emphasizes voluntary, science-based conservation; technical assistance; partnerships; incentive-based programs; and cooperative problem solving at the community level,” said Jeff Zimprich, State Conservationist. “A producer may seek assistance from NRCS to provide technical assistance in the form of a conservation plan including engineering design, or financial assistance in the form of incentives through various NRCS programs.” Zimprich 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. “Along with homeownership and business programs, Rural Development will finance critical infrastructure needed for growth and a healthy environment on our tribal lands.”
“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. “FSA also offers risk protection through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to tribal members who rely on grasslands throughout the state of South Dakota for forage and grazing purposes.”
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. Today, Secretary Vilsack 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.
To identify persistent poverty counties, USDA identifies census tracts with over 20 percent poverty (according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data) to identify sub-county pockets of poverty. As areas of persistent poverty are identified, USDA staff work with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs, and help build program participation.
Vilsack noted in his announcement that often USDA conducts special outreach activities in an area, and that since 2010, USDA has partnered with over 400 local community based organizations to promote local or regional development projects.
“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. Mr. 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. The Bi-annual SDIBA is the premier event in South Dakota’s Native economic development field. The conference will bring hundreds of Tribal and non-Tribal government and program representatives, practitioners, policy-makers, lenders, educators, nonprofit organization, foundations, and entrepreneurs together with a focus on building Indian business. This conference provides an excellent opportunity for the USDA to present the StrikeForce Initiative.
Participants in the Strike Force include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, the Food and Nutrition Service and other USDA offices and agencies.