No matter where you're from, no matter what you look like, no matter your background, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is here for you. It has been an exciting year at USDA, filled with growth and opportunity. This year, I have traveled the country and the world to meet with farmers, ranchers and agriculture leaders who love the land and want to help the next generation succeed.
As 2015 comes to a close, I would like to share the top five things USDA has done this year to build a more diverse future for agriculture:
1. This fall, I met with the next generation of agriculture leaders on college campuses across the country. From the meat lab at Colorado State to environmental policy at Duke, these students, both male and female, are asking important questions and working together to make our industry more diverse and innovative than ever before.
2. This year at the National FFA convention, I announced a new USDA commitment to beginning farmers and ranchers. By visiting www.usda.gov/newfarmers, burgeoning farm entrepreneurs can access advice and guidance on everything a new farm business owner needs to know, from writing a business plan, to obtaining a loan to grow their business, to filing taxes as a new small business owner. New farmers can also use the site's Discovery Tool to build a personalized set of recommendations of USDA programs and services that may meet their needs. Over the next two years, USDA is also prioritizing $5.6 billion within USDA programs and services to better serve new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
3. We created a network for women in agriculture who are interested in supporting one another as we look to see more women leader at the decision making table. In February at the annual Ag Outlook Forum, I announced the official launch of the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network, which now has over 1,000 participants. These women come from all walks of life and I have met many of them at roundtables across the country to discuss ways to increase opportunities for women in agriculture. I look forward to watching this network grow and encourage you to join by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see the impact of women in ag in your state by visiting www.usda.gov/womeninag.
4. Across the globe, women are working together to address global food insecurity and I was lucky enough to visit with some amazing women farmers in Africa, Central and South America this year. In Ghana, I visited a local cacao farm and saw firsthand the security and opportunity that successful cocoa production can bring to rural communities. In these communities, the contributions of women to global food security could not be more apparent which is why USDA uses the full force of all of its resources to improve food security around the world.
5. USDA stands ready to help our nation’s veterans find a fulfilling career in agriculture. Every year, approximately 200,000 Service members complete the Transition Assistance Program as they prepare for civilian life. This career training and counseling program now includes information on a wide variety of USDA loans, grants, training and technical assistance available for veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture. For more information, you can reach out to USDA’s Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison, Lanon Baccam, or watch the Google Hangout that I hosted with some incredible veterans and veteran-training organizations in agriculture.
This has been a great year for American agriculture and I look forward to continuing these efforts in 2016.