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Rural America Summit: Revitalize the Countryside

June 14, 2010

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Revitalizing rural America is something the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes seriously, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. He spoke at the recent National Summit of Rural America, which tackled topics ranging from the aging farmer and rancher population to market competition.

Chris Christiaens is a project specialist who represented the Montana Farmers Union at the event. One of the breakout sessions focused on federal paperwork for rural grants, and Christiaens believes USDA will be making changes after hearing about the experiences of farmers and ranchers. He cites the process for wind turbine grants as an example, and points out that very few applications have been approved to date.

"The average grant takes close to 160 hours to put together and to write. To really do it well, the farmer would need to have an engineer on board."

Renewable energy production was showcased as part of the framework for rebuilding rural economies.

Christiaens says helping farmers and ranchers explore new consumer markets was also a topic at the summit, as was the importance of making sure transportation is efficient.

"Our infrastructure of roads, bridges and railroad tracks is all in not-the-greatest of condition."

The summit was the wrap-up of the USDA's year-long listening tour to learn rural concerns.

Details are at www.usda.gov

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT