Thursday, February 26, 2015

Wednesday, February 25: USDA and Capitol Hill

Wednesday February 25, 2015
Our day started at the USDA headquarters, where Ms. Kathryn Hill hosted our group.

Deputy Undersecretary Karis Gutter, USDA
Karis Gutter, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services has served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) the past six years. This division oversees Farm Service Agency (FSA)  and Risk Management Agency (RMA). Mr. Gutter described programmatic changes to the farm safety net--crop insurance and commodity programs. With the launch of the new farm bill in spring of 2014, FSA prioritized deployment of disaster programs, dairy risk protection tools, financial lending, and conservation programs. Further discussion with SDARL leaders addressed the need for livestock risk management products; farm program participation affected by wetland compliance concerns; and increasing lending limits for guarantee loans.
Kanable, Symens, Nelson and Kettwig
Rural development (RD) issues were the focus of Sam Rikkers, who serves as Deputy Adminstrator for that agency within USDA. Rural housing, business support and utility programs were highlighted during this dialogue. An example of a RD business program which farmers or ranchers could utilize would be Rural Energy for America Program (REAP,) which provides grants and low interest loans to upgrade to higher efficiency systems, such as grain dryers or barn ventilation fans. Broadband access and wastewater system improvements continue to be high demand infrastructure needs of rural communities, also. Class members shared examples of how their South Dakota communities have benefited from RD programs, such as new housing triplexes and daycare centers.
Dr. Shelly Ver Ploeg: "Food Deserts"
Food deserts were the subject of a presentation by Dr. Shelly Ver Ploeg, economist within the Economic Research Service (ERS). Food deserts are described as an area with limited access to healthy, nutritious food and usually in a low-income area. Dr. Ver Ploeg outlined analysis conducted countywide to identify areas within both urban and rural areas that lack proximity to grocery stores and transportation to those shopping centers. South Dakota's map shows quite a few food deserts, primarily in southwest and northwest counties and a few scattered communities in central and northeastern parts of the state.
Congresswoman Noem meeting with the class
Congresswoman Kristi Noem & SDARL Class VIII
SDARL members took to the Hill on Wednesday afternoon, meeting with Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds, as well as with their senior policy advisers. Senator Thune's office arranged a tour of the Capitol, which concluded our visit to the Hill.
Senator John Thune

Senator John Thune & SDARL Class VIII
Senator John Thune meeting with the class

Sen. Thune's policy advisors Lynn Tjeerdsma & Ty Littau
Senator Rounds, members Randy Nelson and James Kroupa

Senator Rounds & SDARL Class VIII

Senator Rounds with Eric Jennings. Jennings' great grandfather Peter Norbeck's desk is nowadays used by the Senator.
Wednesday evening concluded with a reception of agricultural and forestry leadership program participants from Washington, Indiana, South Dakota and Minnesota. Small groups from these states enjoyed dinner together--providing a chance to compare leadership experiences, state agricultural industries and highlights of their Washington, DC trips. Interestingly, some of these state leadership programs have been training leaders for more than 35 years.

Submitted by Trudy Wastweet