Vilsack Promotes Rural Development

Recent public statements by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have reaffirmed his commitment to rural development. The American rural development movement stretches back to the 1930s and 40s. Faced with an agricultural sector desperately in need of electricity, the federal government offered farm loans through the newly created Rural Utilities Service, an agency charged with offering funding to agricultural centers and electrification cooperatives to provide power to American farmers. Thanks to the efforts of the federal government and the availability of low-interest farm loans, the percentage of farms with electricity rose from 11 percent in 1935, the year REA was created, to nearly all farms by 1952.
The work of the REA continues today. While less concerned with expanding access to electricity, nearly ubiquitous in 2012, the federal government still offers farm loans to further the cause of rural development. The Rural Utilities Service, the successor of the REA, offers federal loans and subsidies to improve rural access to waste management and telecommunication services.
Concerning telecommunication improvements and upgrades to internet networks, government efforts are often less concerned with offering farm loans then they are with offering business loans and subsidies to telecom companies to expand access. While there have been remarkable breakthroughs in internet technology, many farmers are still stymied by limited rural access to broadband networks, a systematic problem that cannot be solely fixed by expanding farm loans. Marketing pressure on and government subsidies to telecom companies can often help boost limited network access.
Rural development is not solely measured by internet access. Recent USDA statements have lauded expanded energy projects as a major sign of successful rural modernization. The USDA has long supported offering farm loans for the creation of renewable energy systems, ranging from wind to geothermal power. Thanks to the Rural Energy for America Program, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill, the USDA has over $25 million available for energy projects. Most of these funds are distributed in the form of farm loans and grants and can fund anything from system installation to feasibility studies.