Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a report highlighting the impact of more than $33 billion in USDA investments to support rural businesses, infrastructure and housing in 2013.
"This report tells the story of how USDA support has made a tremendous difference in the lives of rural Americans," said Vilsack.
"Our investments help create jobs and opportunity for rural residents, provide affordable housing, support modern infrastructure, and build essential community facilities. I am proud of the role that USDA has played to grow rural economies and help make rural America a place of opportunity, innovation and economic growth."
USDA Rural Development's $193 billion portfolio is making lasting investments in rural communities. The report highlights several initiatives that are helping to address persistent rural poverty, expand health care for Mississippi Delta residents, and develop stronger partnerships between government, private-sector and community-based organizations.
Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA business programs have provided more than 18,000 guaranteed loans, direct loans and grants to help more than 74,000 businesses create or save more than 375,000 jobs. USDA is increasingly becoming the lender of choice for many Native American tribes throughout the country.
USDA programs support research into new energy sources and help protect the environment. During the two last quarters of fiscal year 2013, USDA made payments to operators of 56 anaerobic digesters that produced almost 173 million kilowatt hours of electricity - enough to power more than 17,000 homes annually.
For example, Clover Hill Dairy in Campbellsport, Wis., received a $6,200 payment through the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program to operate its anaerobic digester, which was commissioned 2007. The digester produces 2.7 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per year.
The dairy's herd provides the manure to produce biogas, which fuels the generators that produce electricity. The excess electricity is purchased by a local utility and delivered to customers.
USDA broadband infrastructure loans awarded in FY 2013 will result in new or upgraded broadband service for about 120,000 rural households, businesses and community institutions once the projects are completed. The Department also continued to make great strides to bring distance learning and telemedicine infrastructure to rural areas.
In 2013, one-third of USDA's distance learning grants went to rural areas where the minority population is 30 percent or higher. Another third went to areas were poverty rates have been consistently high over long periods. All of the awards went to rural areas where residents lacked access to medical services.
Rural Development is a key player in the recovery of the nation's housing market, particularly in rural areas. For many realtors, USDA Rural Development loans account for most of their business.
In 2013, nearly 163,000 rural families became homeowners through loans from private lenders that were guaranteed by USDA, and more than 7,000 families bought homes through direct loans from USDA.
USDA's homeownership program is complemented by assistance that helps rural residents find affordable rental housing. Tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their income on rent for decent, safe housing.
Last year, USDA provided rental assistance to nearly 280,000 rural residents. Including the residents who get rental assistance, more than half a million rural Americans live in rental housing financed or directly supported by USDA.
USDA's Rural Housing Service invested in more than 1,000 essential community infrastructure projects with $1.4 billion in direct loans, guaranteed loans and grants in Fiscal Year 2013.
In other areas, the report indicates that USDA's Rural Utilities Service helped meet the power needs of 8.7 million rural customers last year by providing nearly $5 billion in loans to electric utilities. These loans helped build and expand transmission and distribution systems.
During fiscal year 2013, USDA helped bring new and improved electric infrastructure to more than 80,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives and invested a record amount - $275 million - on infrastructure projects benefitting them.
One of the many examples of how USDA investments are helping rural businesses and communities is the bio-based startup company Laurel Biocomposites, LLC, in Laurel, Neb. USDA partnered with Security Bank in Laurel to provide a $5 million loan guarantee that helped Laurel Biocomposites buy equipment and provide working capital for its first year of operation.
Today, the company is operating one production line and is expected to begin full-scale production later this year. When full-scale production begins, the company plans to double its work force from seven currently to 13 to 15 workers on the plant floor.
The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative in Madison, Wis., is using a $150,000 USDA Value Added Producer Grant to help start a regional fresh produce food hub and packinghouse to improve producers' access to local wholesale markets. The hub will create private-sector jobs and aggregate local produce sold under the "Wisconsin Farmed" brand.
Eleven families in Reedley, Calif., became homeowners in 2013 after moving into houses they jointly built through USDA's Mutual Self-Help Housing program. The group worked with oversight from Self-Help Enterprises, a pioneer in the "Sweat Equity" concept of homebuilding.
For additional information on Rural Development projects, please visit Rural Development's new interactive web map featuring program funding and success stories for the past four fiscal years.