MSU Wins Grant to Increase Awareness of Federal Agricultural Programs


By Erin Strickland for MSU News Service


BOZEMAN — Montana State University College of Agriculture has received a $99,896 grant from the USDA Farm Service Agency to increase education and awareness of FSA programs to new and non-traditional agricultural producers over the next year.

Shannon Arnold, project director and an associate professor in MSU's Division of Agricultural Education, will manage the grant. She said that many people don’t realize they may qualify for a low interest rate loan through the FSA. And, some FSA farm programs have recently been expanded, some are new or improved, and some are simply underutilized. Arnold and her colleagues want to change that.

One particular goal of the project is to help young people understand opportunities for a future in agriculture, especially important considering that the average age of Montana’s farmers and ranchers is 58 years old, Arnold said. She hopes this yearlong outreach project will help to educate college students, organic farmers, specialty-crop growers, agricultural and extension educators and urban and rural youth.

“We can help promote future informed agriculturalists,” she said. “We want to help create a more educated future generation of producers.”

Also working on the project are Mac Burgess, assistant professor in MSU's Department of Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology, and Dustin Perry, assistant professor of agricultural education. Burgess and Perry will develop and present workshops at agricultural conferences, such as the Montana Ag Educators conference and Young Ag Leaders conference. They also plan to go to 4-H clubs and farmers markets and visit Extension agents throughout the state to spread the word about these programs.

In addition, this summer Burgess will teach a course that will incorporate information about FSA programs into his curriculum.

To reach an even wider audience, Arnold and her colleagues are enlisting the help of a video production company to produce an engaging and informative promotional video designed for social media so people can quickly and easily understand what programs are available and if they are right for them.

“Social media is so much a part of our culture these days,” Arnold said. “It’s also how people receive information, so FSA’s goal is to utilize it in addition to regular workshops to extend information to other audiences.”

Understanding FSA loan programs will help promote financial security for producers, Arnold said. Because funds are available specifically to help small scale and specialty growers, as well as those committed to using best production practices, FSA loans help support responsible stewardship of the environment, she said.

By providing access to credit, FSA’s Farm Loan Program offers opportunities to new and beginning producers; racial and ethnic minority producers and women producers; young people actively involved in agricultural youth organizations needing financial assistance for income-producing educational agricultural products; urban farmers and rooftop producers; and to operations using alternative farming methods, such as hydroponic, aeroponics, vertical farming and freight container farming, among others. Loans are also available to start, improve, expand, transition, market and strengthen family farming and ranching operations.

The USDA grant aligns with her work at MSU, Arnold said, where she teaches students whose primary goal is to promote agricultural education, not necessarily as a teacher, but through leadership and communication in the field. Her students may someday work in sales or agricultural management, hold communications or public relations positions within agricultural associations, or they could be Extension agents, educating the agricultural community. This grant has allowed her to show her students the process required to achieve effective public outreach.

“USDA Farm Service Agency is excited about MSU’s grant award and the opportunity to expand FSA’s customer base by reaching new producers in the Gallatin Valley and Montana,” said Amy Webbink, chief administrative officer who currently serves as the acting state executive director for FSA in Montana. “FSA looks forward to the work ahead supporting Montana agriculture.”

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