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USDA Works to Deliver Broadband to Rural Communities

Thanks to USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service funding and Home Communications, Inc., those who live and work in a rural Kansas community don’t have to travel miles for broadband service. High school and college students can upload, research, and complete homework assignments online. Employees can work remotely, farmers can monitor operations, and businesses can successfully market and promote their products and services.

Home Communications, Inc. (HCI), based in Gypsum, Kan., is one example of how rural telecommunication service providers are investing in the future of their communities. Since they opened doors as a rural telephone company in 1933, HCI has transitioned to a broadband service provider focused on growth by expanding their customer base and service territory.

Ranchers Using NRCS Conservation Practices Boost Prairie Chicken Occupancy

Habitat conservation practices make a difference for lesser prairie-chickens. That's the finding of a recent scientific study – the first part of a multi-year study – described in a new report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI).

LPCI, led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works with partner organizations and ranchers to improve habitat and address threats to the bird. Since 2010, more than 1 million acres of habitat have been restored on working lands.

Growing Rural Economies and Opportunities through Social Media

From Facebook to Snapchat, rural businesses are exploring how to use social media to improve their customer’s experience and expand their customer base. Over the last eight years, USDA and the Obama Administration have partnered with rural communities to build more opportunities that support rural small business owners, farmers and ranchers through applied research.   Today USDA awarded nearly $1 million in Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grants to support market research to strengthen markets for U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.

Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), FSMIP projects make a real difference to diverse stakeholders and largely benefit rural communities.  For example, in 2013, FSMIP awarded a 2-year grant to Kansas State University to develop social media strategies for small green businesses, including nurseries, garden centers and lawn care operations, and to explore the potential of social media to expand their markets and profitability.  Social media holds promise as a strategy for these rural businesses which frequently have a small customer base and struggle to be profitable throughout the year, given the seasonal nature of their business.  Through social media, business owners could reach more potential customers for little to no cost but they often do not know how or why they should use these tools.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Jamie Clover Adams

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Jamie Clover Adams, Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the first woman to serve in that position. Director Adams recently participated in a 10 day women-led USDA trade mission to China with Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor.

Helping a Growing Family Build Their Own Home

As I watched Matthew McLane’s children play in the front yard of their home, I could tell how much this family loved being homeowners.  Matthew and Candice McLane became first time homebuyers through the Agency’s Mutual Self-Help Program in 2012.  The couple, and their two daughters, had been living in an apartment prior to building their home through the Self-Help Housing Program.  Now the couple has three children, and one more on the way this fall – and the house is filled with love and joy as the family prepares for the arrival of its newest member.

Listening to Matthew describe the self-help process, you can tell how much pride he has in his home.  He describes putting his sweat, blood and tears into the home, but loving every minute of it.  From learning how to hang drywall, to laying flooring or installing shingles, it was all new experiences and skills that Matthew learned.  When repairs are needed to the home now, Matthew is able to do the home maintenance and repairs himself.

New GroupGAP Certification Brings New Opportunities for the Produce Industry

Excitement is building in the produce industry.  From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates.  The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements.

New Study Highlights Redcedar's Impact on Prairie Chickens, Helps Improve Conservation Efforts

A new study offers the first empirical data proving that female lesser prairie-chickens avoid grasslands when trees are present. The study, highlighted in a Science to Solutions report by the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), underscores the importance of removing woody invasive plants like redcedar to restore grassland habitat. The new data will help guide USDA’s conservation efforts.

Though sometimes called the “green glacier” for its steady progress across the prairie, redcedar encroachment is far from glacial in speed. Open grasslands can become closed-canopy forest in as little as 40 years, making the land unsuitable to lesser prairie-chickens and other wildlife.

Celebrating American Agriculture: All USDA Foods are Local to Someone

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

Fish and fowl, sowing and reaping, nutrition and agriculture… certain words and concepts naturally go hand in hand, and March is a month to celebrate both the foundation and purpose of the American food system. With March designated as National Nutrition Month and March 15 as National Agriculture Day, the time is ripe to reflect on healthy eating goals and to express gratitude for the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who provide the foods to fuel our nation.

USDA’s Food Distribution Programs work at the intersection of nutrition and agriculture. Each year, USDA purchases more than 2 billion pounds of food worth nearly $2 billion from American farmers and distributes the food to schools, food banks, Indian Tribal Organizations, disaster feeding organizations, and other charitable institutions and feeding organizations. The programs benefit both ends of the food chain by supporting local agriculture and the economy while also providing a nutrition safety net for vulnerable Americans.

Rangeland Restoration Benefits Cattle and Prairie Chicken

Cattle and lesser prairie-chickens both need healthy rangeland to thrive. Through voluntary conservation efforts, farmers and ranchers in the southern Great Plains can restore habitat for this iconic bird while strengthening working lands.

The Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI), a partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), works to enhance lesser prairie-chicken habitat one ranch at a time. A number of the initiative’s successes are highlighted in a new report called the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative: Conservation across the Range.

A Regional, Rural Northeast Kansas Hospital Celebrates the Completion of State-of-the-Art Facility

What began as an individual physician medical practice in 1859 in the small rural community of Onaga, Kan., has grown into a regional healthcare system spanning 10,000 square miles in three counties in northeast Kansas.  The vision for this regional system was seeded by dedicated doctors, nurses, and hospital staff and guided to fruition by a series of forward-thinking hospital administrators and board members.

Last month, Community HealthCare System (CHCS) took another step forward and cut the ribbon on their new hospital/hospital renovation project in Onaga.  The project was financed through a $17.59 million Community Facilities direct loan from USDA Rural Development and a companion $2 million USDA Rural Economic Development Loan from Bluestem Electric Cooperative.