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Under Secretary Takes a Walk Down Memory Lane at a Wisconsin Cheese Plant

On a recent trip to Wisconsin, USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager had an opportunity to revisit a specialty cheese plant in Montfort, Wis. that he had helped to establish about ten years ago.

In 2002, the Wisconsin Farmers Union hired a cheesemaker and took steps to begin the start-up of a specialty cheese plant in Montfort, Wis. to add value to milk produced by Wisconsin dairy farmers and to create the WI Farmers Union Specialty Cheese Company. To ensure success of the endeavor, the Wisconsin Farmers Union sought assistance from Golden Plains Ventures, an organization founded by Under Secretary Tonsager.

Under Secretary Says Renewable Fuels Help Build a Stronger Rural Economy and a More Secure Energy Future

A mid-winter snow storm did not stop more than 200 participants from attending the 7th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit and Trade Show held January 30th in Des Moines.

During Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager’s presentation it was clear that everyone in attendance was extremely focused on helping identify ways the renewable fuels industry can continue to create economic opportunities in rural America. At the summit Mr. Tonsager also had the opportunity to hear Tom Buis with Growth Energy give a detailed overview of the ethanol industry and its many positive impacts throughout our country.

Under Secretary, Northwest innovators Focus on Rural American Renewal

During a brief but busy trip to Oregon Monday, January 28, Agriculture Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager highlighted opportunities to increase public-private collaboration and innovative financing models for rural community and economic development. That morning, Mr. Tonsager delivered the keynote address at the Harvesting Clean Energy conference in Corvallis. Later that day in Portland, Mr. Tonsager sat down with a diverse group of business, technology, education, agriculture, finance and state government representatives to stress the importance of inter-entity teamwork to achieve a common vision for a self-sustaining, prosperous rural America.

“Our mission is to help create jobs in rural America,” Mr. Tonsager explained. “We are looking for creativity, especially as it relates to putting capital together for rural areas so that we can extend our resources further in a thoughtful, sensible way.”

It’s National Co-op Month! America’s Farm Co-ops Set Records in 2011

Since 1930, America has observed National Co-op month in October and what better way to celebrate the strength and vigor of cooperatives in the United States than to read a new USDA report, which notes that farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives posted record sales and income in 2011, surpassing the previous record sales year of 2008 by $10 billion.   Not only that, cooperatives bested the old income record by $500 million. Net income before taxes for all agricultural co-ops was a record $5.4 billion, eclipsing the previous high set in 2008. Net income was up more than 25 percent, or $1 billion, from 2010.

Under Secretary Highlights USDA Job Promotion Efforts in Albert Lea, Minnesota

What started as a small operation almost 40 years ago has grown into major contributor to the economy in Albert Lea, Minn.

Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, Inc., started on Dec. 4, 1973, in a building that occupied 1,100 square feet. Today, Mrs. Gerry’s is adding a 36,500 square-foot addition that will bring its building to over 100,000 square feet and help meet growing customer demand for its real (no flaky stuff here) mashed potatoes and other products.

Ag Entrepreneurship Support from USDA Helps a Michigan FFA Member Boost His Seed Business

Jasper Cunningham is a busy young man.  A Junior at Michigan State University, Michigan FFA’s National Officer candidate, and the owner of his own business:  the Seed Boy Seed Company.

Like many FFA members, Jasper, of Ravenna, Michigan, didn’t grow up on a farm, but farming and agriculture is in his blood.  An Ag Business major, he’s been in the FFA since his freshman year in high school.

USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Dallas Tonsager Visits Maine Community Development Projects

USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager had a unique opportunity to see the many dynamic things happening in rural Maine communities during his visit earlier this month. Each of the projects he visited represented a different way in which USDA Rural Development’s Programs are playing valuable roles, providing a multitude of benefits, including renewable energy, business sustainability, job creation and retention, distance learning, and telemedicine.

For example, I joined the Under Secretary and the Northeast Region State Directors on a ferry to Vinalhaven, a remote island community 12 miles off the coast of Maine. Once there, we were greeted by Town Manager Marjorie Stratton, and led on tours of the Fox Islands Wind site by Fox Islands Wind CEO George Baker, and COO Bill Alcorn. The three immense wind turbines will generate about as much clean renewable wind power as the Fox Islands use, which is between 10 and 10.5 million kilowatt hours per year. USDA Rural Development provided funding support to make possible the total $14 million wind turbine project.