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Source: USDA news release

Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Karis Gutter led a symposium today that offers U.S. military veterans information on agricultural credit as part of USDA's continuing efforts to expand opportunities for military families.

Gutter, a U.S. Marine Corps reservist, along with the Jefferson County Development Authority of West Virginia and the Farmer Veteran Coalition, shared resources on USDA programs, grants, loans and small business contracts with service members who want to start their own rural business, farm or ranch.

"At President Obama's direction, USDA and the rest of the federal government are working to make sure our veterans in rural areas receive the medical care, training and employment support they deserve," said Gutter.

"This is an opportunity for veterans to get information and learn about capital resources to help finance start-up operations or help farmers and ranchers with military backgrounds expand their current operations. America's veterans are leaders across rural America and we want to help them pursue their dreams by prioritizing innovative new approaches and attracting capital to continue economic development in rural communities," said Gutter.

The Kearneysville symposium provides veterans who have an interest in agricultural operations with financial and business planning information, including FSA farm loan programs and a newly proposed microloan program.

The microloan program aims to help small and family operations progress through their start-up years with needed resources, while building capacity, increasing equity, and eventually graduating to commercial credit.

USDA also offers grants programs that support educational programs tailored to meet the particular needs and abilities of returning veterans.

USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) makes it possible to fill that gap in training. At the University of Arkansas, for example, Dr. Dan Donoghue used BFRDP funds to develop internships, workshops and online courses that focus on the needs of veterans interested in pursuing farming after their service to our country.

The workshops, hosted in collaboration with the Farmer-Veteran Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology, give veterans and their families basic and practical on-farm skills for poultry and livestock production, as well as networking opportunities for veterans from all around the country.

In February, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and American Legion National Commander Fang Wong signed a Memorandum of Understanding to help America's veterans and transitioning military service members find positions that promote agriculture, animal and plant health, food safety, nutrition, conservation and rural communities.

The national effort to better serve veterans, reservist and military families has become a priority for Vilsack, who also chartered a task force, "USDA for Veterans, Reservists, and Military Families," to strengthen and coordinate programmatic and outreach efforts across the department to better serve military and veteran families.

Today, about 6.1 million veterans live in rural communities - a higher concentration than anywhere else in the country. USDA is actively committed to recruiting veterans and transitioning military servicemen for employment while promoting greater awareness of USDA programs.

For example, USDA and the American Legion have agreed to promote USDA vacancy announcements; share information about activities in newsletters; provide information about USDA programs and vacancies through established networks as well as the on the Web; and promote veteran owned business participation in USDA contracts.

USDA also will provide information about the opportunities and support it offers, so that service members who want to start their own rural business, farm or ranch are aware of USDA programs, grants, loans or small business contracts. USDA education, training, outreach and mentoring programs, such as, will help encourage ourn young, hard-working veterans to be the next generation of America's farmers and ranchers.

On November 9, 2009, President Obama signed executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government; and, as a result USDA created the Veterans Employment Program Office.

Through strategic recruiting and effective marketing of USDA to transitioning service members and veterans, USDA increased the percentage of veterans in the total workforce, including permanent and temporary positions, from five percent in fiscal year 2009 to six percent in fiscal 2010 to nearly eight percent in fiscal year 2011.

Disabled veterans are a subset of veterans and are a subject of special emphasis in hiring. USDA increased disabled veteran hiring from just over one percent of total persons hired in fiscal year 2009 to nearly two percent in fiscal year 2010 to over two percent in fiscal year 2011.

Additionally, USDA increased its hiring of veterans in the permanent workforce from 17.5 percent in fiscal year 2009 to 20.3 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 23.9 percent in fiscal year 2011.

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