Discussion at a monthly county Farm Bureau board of directors meeting got right to the point when it was time to discuss national affairs. It appears that a new farm bill is stalled, with how much money to put in it being a major stumbling block. The farmers and farmwives present at the board meeting had a suggestion: Congress and the President should take a hard look at what's really in USDA. Only a small percentage of the budget for USDA actually goes to farmers in either direct or indirect support, many of the board members contended. Yet farmers take the biggest hit in the national mainstream media for the proposed cost of the bill.
The 800-pound elephant in the farm bill is the welfare program, administered as food stamps and through other programs that fall under USDA. But there are also other divisions within USDA that are funded that don't provide direct benefit to farmers. That's through the Rural Development program.
No one at the meeting took exception with rural development programs, other than they felt that any part of a USDA program not going to farmers should receive equal coverage when the press discusses the high-cost of the proposed farm bill. Usually, everything else- the parts that also rack up high price tags- are lost in the fine print, or maybe mentioned on the back page of the paper or at the end of a TV report.
Here's an example of a good program that brings federal dollars to an Indiana community. But it's not direct payments or direct benefit for farmers, yet it falls under USDA's budget. The Wayne County community of Centerville just received a check for $1,990,000 in USDA Rural Development Funds. About $1,440,000 is a grant that doesn't have to be repaid, with the rest being a Water and Waster loan. The money will be used to extend sanitary sewer lines along two local roads in the community.
This money will mean that 105 existing households and 11 new users will have sewer service. This project was singled out for a hefty grant after the Indiana State Department of Health documented unacceptable levels of E. coli in wells and in surface waters while performing tests in the area. Both situations pose a health threat to rural residents. It was not noted if any of the 116 households that will be served by this new system are actual residences occupied by farm families.
The Town of Centerville also received a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and a grant from Wayne County to help make the project possible. All totaled, money devoted to this project through loans and/or grants reached nearly $2.7 million.
You can learn about other rural development programs in Indiana at: www.rurdev.usda.gov/in.