By Joshua Schuetz
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack paid a significant visit to Lime Springs in Howard County, Iowa, where he emphasized the importance of rural economic development. During his visit, Vilsack toured Upper Iowa Beef, a meatpacking plant in Lime Springs that expanded its facilities through a USDA grant. Following the tour, Vilsack held a roundtable discussion with local farmers, business leaders, and economic development professionals, including CEDA team members Jason Passmore, Spiff Slifka, Chris Giesen and CEDA Board member Brian Krambeer.
Slifka said one point of discussion was the income disparity between farmers, something Vilsack said the USDA has not been active enough in addressing in recent years. Since 1981, 437,000 small farms have been lost in the United States, and a smaller share of corporate farms collects more income.
“We know that 7 percent of farms are owned by large corporations. Last year, we had record income from farmers, but that 7 percent of corporate farming took 89 percent of the income, which left 93 percent of the farmers with 11 percent of the income” she said.
Investing in rural America and helping make rural prosperity more widespread were discussed at the roundtable. Passmore said Vilsack announced additional funding for farmers, with programs aimed at helping them monetize animal waste by turning it into SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) among other things. These programs help farmers in two ways: first, they can make them more sustainable, and second, they can help farmers make financially unproductive
parts of the farming cycle profitable.
“One challenge he had for us is not just tied to our investments with the USDA but with the growing industries in the energy fields and other agricultural related fields that are coming up. How do we position ourselves as communities to possibly recruit some of these new business startups? How do we align ourselves that way similar to a supply chain?” he said.
Passmore said CEDA’s work in Howard County aligns with that challenge, as the county’s revolving loan funds have provided funding to startups, transitions and established businesses across a diverse range of local industries. “Right now, we have more than $1 million in USDA revolving loan funding currently assisting 36 businesses in Howard County.”
Giesen added “Brian Krambeer from MiEnergy Cooperative spoke of their USDA REDLG program that has provided millions to area businesses as well. It’s great to see CEDA working on the front lines engaged with USDA to elevate our rural communities and improve their sustainability.”