Allan Johnson, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development, addressed an early morning meeting at historic Bonanzaville USA. The meeting was scheduled to coincide with the second day of the Big Iron Farm Show. The Northern Prairie Chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) hosted the event. More than 35 members and guests arrived by 7:30 for the presentation.
Johnsons’ opening remarks were an overview of the Rural Development Division of the USDA, allowing those in attendance greater insight into Rural Development’s role in today’s rural America. Rural Development acts in part as a bank, it’s the primary lender for rural electric cooperatives and rural mortgages. Most rental properties(assisted living and senior citizens facilities) in rural areas fall under the responsibility of Rural Development.
The area of work undertaken by Rural Development that is grabbing the most headlines today are its efforts to develop renewable energy resources. A biodiesel plant in North Dakota recently received $500,000 in funding from the department. Johnson said that although renewable fuels won’t replace oil and coal in North Dakota, replacing 1 billion barrels of imported oil with renewable fuels, at $60 or $70 per barrel, would alone exceed today’s total farm revenue.
Johnson said that Rural Development supports the advanced energy initiative. A goal has been set to replace 30% of current oil use with renewable sources by the year 2030.
In the near future, energy and water will be the two highest areas of demand globally. In an effort to stay ahead of this trend, Rural Development is investigating other sources for “celluosic” energy. Celluosic energy research is intended to find more crops or inputs for the production of ethanol and other renewable fuels.
The expansion of broadband internet access, expanding both wind and celluosic energy and undertaking projects that will stabilize rural population numbers are also areas of interest and involvement for Rural Development.
Johnson asserted that this is an interesting time for agriculture. “Moms and Dads are telling their kids to stay home, or come back home, because of entrepreneurship, renewable energy and things happening with broadband”, he said. “Young people can come home, they can compete and have comparable jobs to what their urban cousins have and still live and enjoy the wonderful benefits and quality of life from living in small town America.”
All in attendance were urged to consider attendance at the Renewable Energy Conference that Rural Development is sponsoring in St. Louis, MO on October 12 & 13, 2006. More information on that conference may be found at http://www.advancingrenewableenergy.com/.
Johnson is a North Dakota native and prior to joining the USDA in 2003 was President of Farm Progress Companies. Farm Progress publishes magazines and websites for farmers and the agriculture industry.