In Missouri, USDA Investments in the Biobased Economy Creates More Products Made in Rural America


Missouri producer, Chris Holliday, diversified his operation by growing miscanthus which he delivers to a biomass company that processes the crop into an additive used in pet foods and treats.

By: Dana Rogge, Missouri Public Affairs and Outreach Specialist

Taking chances and trying new things is not new to Cooper County, Missouri, farmer Chris Holliday. In 2011, the diversified row-crop producer and contract turkey grower found opportunity in an unusual new crop, miscanthus. Miscanthus is a crop grown as a possible renewable fuel source; however, Holliday’s crop also may be fueling your pet – – as a fiber additive in dog food and treats. Continue reading

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USDA Continues to Reach Out to Montana’s Tribal Communities


Panelists discuss ways that USDA agencies, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Tribal Nations can better serve Indian agricultural producers and tribal communities on day two of the three-day USDA Tribal Outreach Forum held March 23-25 in Bozeman, Montana. More than 100 tribal, federal, state officials, agricultural producers and extension agents attended the statewide USDA event, including representatives from the seven Indian reservations in Montana.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held a USDA Tribal Outreach Forum in Bozeman, Montana, to discuss federal and state agricultural programs and initiatives, activities and opportunities with tribal leaders and other representatives in Indian Country.

The USDA Tribal Outreach Forum gives USDA, Tribal Nations and agricultural partners like Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) and Indian Nations Conservation Alliance the chance to open a dialogue and develop relations that benefit the agricultural tribal community.

“Tribal outreach and program education is an important priority for USDA and Tribal leadership” said Bruce Nelson, USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) state executive director in Montana. “We look forward to our continued work together to help grow and strengthen conservation efforts, agricultural operations, businesses and tribal communities.” Continue reading

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Learning about Loan Opportunities for Tribal Farmlands with Multiple Owners


FSA’s newly authorized Highly Fractionated Indian Land Loan Program was highlighted at a three-day 2016 USDA Tribal Outreach Forum in Bozeman, Montana. Connie Holman of the national Farm Loan Program staff in Washington D.C., visits with tribal officials about program changes authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. More than 100 people attended the tribal forum representing all seven Indian reservations in Montana.

By Jennifer Cole,  Public Affairs Specialist, Montana Farm Service Agency

Improved lending opportunities for Indian tribes and tribal members to purchase tribal agricultural land with multiple owners are now possible thanks to new authority in the 2014 Farm Bill that authorizes a total of $10 million for the program in fiscal year 2016.

“FSA’s Highly Fractionated Indian Land Loan Program (HFIL) allows USDA to provide revolving loans to qualified intermediary lenders who can relend the funds to qualified tribes and individuals to start and expand farming and ranching operations on tribal lands,” Connie Holman, of the FSA national office in Washington D.C., told attendees on the opening day of the USDA Tribal Outreach Forum meeting held in Bozeman, Montana, on March 23-25, 2016. Continue reading

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Siblings learn important lessons; earn well-deserved Bees


Siblings, Peyton and Kenna Krahulik, used a Farm Service Agency Youth Loan to start a honeybee operation that they hope will fund their college education.

By Scott Whittington, Public Affairs Specialist

Some siblings start lawn-mowing businesses or shovel snow to earn cash, but one set of siblings in Nebraska are the “bees knees,” overcoming stinging setbacks to reach success as sweet as honey.

Peyton and Kenna Krahulik grew up on a farm with a variety of animals. They joined 4-H when Peyton was 9 and signed up as Independents.  In 2014, they joined the “Just Kidding Around” club, where they have showed every animal (except goats, for which the program was named!). And they did all the things that kids do in a farm community. But when they met Tom Openeer, things changed. Continue reading

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Brothers share FSA youth loan, don’t hog competition spotlight


Brothers, Tylar and Jacob Colwell, used a Farm Service Agency youth loan for the past five years to finance operating costs for raising hogs, cattle and sheep in Eddy County, New Mexico.

By Scott Whittington, Public Affairs Specialist

Some brothers spend their time tormenting each other or fighting over the front seat. Teenage brothers getting along in peace and harmony might happen right after pigs learn to fly a stealth fighter, but this isn’t the case in Eddy County, New Mexico.

The Colwell brothers not only get along, they operate their own business, raising steers, lambs, rabbits and pigs that they show at local events each year. They compete in county fairs and sell their award-winning animals. They were eager to discuss the success of their breeding operation.

“There’s definitely some work in it,” said Tylar, 19. “I’m happy my friends and family helped us out.” Continue reading

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Young Farmer Starts Strong with FSA


Stephen and Kayte Leatherwood check on one of their cows at their 66-acre cattle ranch in Georgia that was purchased with the help of an FSA farm ownership loan.

By Michael Booth, Public Affairs Specialist

Stephen Leatherwood looks out over his 66-acre cattle ranch, with two ponds fully stocked with catfish, and knows he’s come a long way since he started farming and ranching.

His cattle ranch in Georgia isn’t where he began, though. Four years ago, at the age of 20, on a four-and-a-half acre farm in North Carolina, Stephen started growing tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers.  In the ensuing three years, he’s had successful growing seasons, finished his college degree, bought a cattle ranch, and, perhaps most important, married his girlfriend, Kayte. Continue reading

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South Dakota Family Puts Down Roots using FSA Farm Ownership Loan

Livermonts working photo

Wade and Lonna Livermont purchased a turn-key tree farm in South Dakota with the help of a FSA farm ownership loan.

By Cassie Bable, Public Affairs Specialist, FSA Office of External Affairs

Wade and Lonna Livermont understand that raising livestock is an iconic way of life in South Dakota, but they put their ranch work behind them when they used a USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm ownership loan to purchase a turn-key tree farm north of Allen in Bennett County.

Wade, a horse trainer, and Lonna, a professional quilter, have tried their hand at several jobs in the agriculture sector, but decided it was time to buy a place of their own. After coming across a tree farm for sale, they did their homework and came to the conclusion that the small 160-acre property could pay for itself in the long run. Continue reading

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Texas FSA Expands Campus Liaison Recruiting Concept to Meet Increased Interest in Employment in the Ag Industry


In 2007, Texas FSA launched the Campus Liaison Program with 16 agency liaisons representing eight universities. The program has since expanded to include 48 Campus Liaisons representing more than two dozen colleges and universities across the state.

Texas has about 180 fully-accredited colleges and universities throughout the state. Texas Farm Service Agency (FSA) recognizes the importance of sharing the FSA mission with those future business leaders, colleagues, farmers and ranchers. In order to reach students in the most personable manner possible, Texas FSA implemented the Campus Liaison Program.

Campus liaisons are FSA employees who represent the agency at college and university events. Most of the liaisons are graduates of the universities they visit. These professionals, who go the extra mile to reach our next generation of agriculture experts, come from every mission area in Texas FSA. The Campus Liaison program was established in 2007, and the first group of 16 liaisons began their efforts coordinating with eight universities the following year. The original goal was to better connect FSA with university recruiting by including graduates from that university.

Continue reading

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Mapping the Ag-Nation: 2016 National GIS Training (Part 1)

By Simone Grant for FSA Public Affairs

GIS TrainingImages2In mid-March, Geographic Information System specialists, county office employees, national office staff, and program management of all levels at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) gathered together in Charlotte, North Carolina, for FSA’s first national face-to-face GIS training in more than 10 years.

This training was held in order to achieve the following goals:

  • Identify key GIS position responsibilities and skills needed for the completion of key GIS tasks for all FSA employees serving as State GIS Specialists or acting as GIS resources;
  • Address previously identified training needs to help those in GIS positions achieve a standardized approach to national program delivery;
  • Define common dataset, reports and tools recommended for completion of GIS tasks.

In order to accomplish this feat, a GIS Training Tiger Team was established comprised of Washington, D.C., National Office Staff, State GIS Specialists from around the nation, and representatives from the FSA Aerial Photography Field Office (APFO) in Salt Lake City, Utah. This team, led by Production, Emergencies and Compliance Division’s Common Provisions Section Head, Todd Anderson, and GIS Program Manager, Shirley Hall, compiled all training materials, including user guides, Power Point presentations, hands-on exercises complete with datasets, skits, and GIS demonstrations for the twenty different courses that would be held throughout the week, including Geospatial Metadata, Cartographic Design and Mapping, Imagery, Special Projects and Processes, Professional Development, CRM Farm Records, GIS Data Integrity (to name a few).

All this material was prepared through long hours, countless virtual and in-person work sessions, and an incredible amount of juggling normal daily responsibilities over the course of three and a half months.

The result of all their efforts? The training was a huge success. Said some of the training attendees:

“It was really nice to be working with data for our home states but still following along with a group project.” (Pennsylvania)

GIS Training Tiger Team (002)

FSA GIS Training Tiger Team (Top to Bottom) Alex Dubish (MT), Steve Stark (National Office), Alison Lenz (National Office), Ryan Hunt (AZ) Dan Mertz (VA), Kent Willett (OR), Dan Janes (ND) Sarah AcMoody (MI), Heather Grady (NY), David Davis (APFO, Salt Lake City) Billie Jo Smith (NE), Alanda Crawford (National Office), Zachary Adkins (APFO, Salt Lake City) David Taylor (National Office), Simone Grant (National Office Support), Brenda Zachman (WI) Shirley Hall (National Office), Jeff Bloomquist (MN), Todd Anderson (National Office)

“The hands on exercises were the best and I loved that the training team was there to assist when I fell behind… I love the user guides provided. They are easy to follow and a good reference for when I start implementing these procedures in my state.” (Louisiana)

Said one APFO representative about the training team, “I knew that there are a lot a very good people in the national, state, and county offices, but was amazed when seeing them in action at this training. The level of expertise, teaching ability, dedication, enthusiasm, and passion for their work was amazing… It’s incredible that they were able to… work all week with such enthusiasm.”

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm and capability of the GIS team …assembled in Charlotte.  They displayed many maps that showed the variety of work FSA does in imaginative ways.  I would like to create more visibility for the work they do” (Deputy Administrator of Farm Programs)

Our next “Mapping the Ag-Nation” article will feature an interview of the National GIS Training Tiger Team to provide a more in-depth look at what it took to bring this training to fruition. To learn more about FSA’s geographic information systems and aerial photography capabilities, click here.

Questions? Comments? Contact Shirley Hall, GIS Program Manager

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NAP Is Considered “Berry” Good in Iowa

By Elizabeth Lauren Moore, for FSA Public Affairs


Sawmill Hollow aronia berry production

In the spring of 2012, Iowa farmers experienced a harsh freeze that damaged crops and altered production for the year. Vaughn Pittz, his wife Cindy and son Andrew were among the many producers that suffered significant losses, adversely affecting their Sawmill Hollow Family Farm, an organic aronia berry farming operation in Harrison County.


Aronia berries, also known as chokeberries, are native to the Northeastern United States and serve mostly as an ornamental plant, but the berries also are said to be resistant to drought, insects, pollutants and disease, which make the berry a versatile and valued food source. They are used to make wines and teas in Europe, and with their semi-sweet taste, are used in the United States in blended juice drinks.

The Pittz family operates a sixth-generation family farm that dates back to 1882. They converted Sawmill Hollow during the mid-1990s to what is considered the first aronia berry operation in the United States. And it’s organic.


Inspecting Iowa-grown aronia berries

According to Andrew, his family wanted to find a “healthy, native fruit with the potential to create a new agriculture industry for Iowa. In general, crop failures due to climatic conditions can devastate families, farming communities, and in the case of the aronia berry, an industry in its infancy,” Andrew said. “Important programs from the USDA invest in farm families and help keep America farming.”

For more than 15 years, the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) has provided financial assistance to producers that have suffered a loss of crops due to natural disasters.

Andrew said that even though the Pittz family was aware of FSA programs, there weren’t safety-net opportunities for the aronia berry prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, when berries were added as eligible crops for NAP. Further, new NAP benefits made coverage retroactive to 2012, authorizing payments for frost/freeze losses.

“The Farm Service Agency’s investment counteracting the massive loss of berries in 2012 was very helpful for Sawmill Hollow and Iowa growers,” said Andrew. “It’s a great example of how smart government and farmers can work together to foster rural vitality.”

Not only is Sawmill Hollow a successful organic farming operation, but the Pittz family is securing a future for the aronia berry in the United States. Over the last ten years, Sawmill Hollow has held workshops–teaching farmers how to plant, grow, maintain and harvest the crop. Sawmill Hollow currently processes aronia berries for more than 100 growers.

“Iowa is agriculture,” said Andrew. “From leading the world in traditional crops; corn and soybeans, to complementary crops such as aronia berries, grapes, apples, and wind energy–Iowa is growing.”


Pittz family harvests aronia berries on its Sawmill Hollow Family Farm in Harrison County, Iowa

To add to their entrepreneurial experience with the aronia berry, the Pittz family found an American-made combine so the berries didn’t have to be harvested by hand, the traditional method. They contacted a company in Oregon that makes combines for blueberries. With input from Vaughn and Andrew Pittz, the company made a machine specifically for Midwestern aronia.


“We are growing a new American industry, from the plants, to the harvesting, to manufacturing processes. Having an American machine represents one more potential element of rural vitality through this new value added crop,” Andrew said.

It is because of the increasing number of farmers in the aronia berry industry and the growing demand that made NAP disaster assistance a necessity.

“For family farmers and rural communities, the FSA is a great partner for continued agricultural growth. It is helping sustain rural America,” Andrew said. “Thanks to Secretary Vilsack’s visionary leadership, farms and rural businesses have more opportunities to succeed than ever before.”

To learn more about the Non-insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, visit

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