Monday, January 23, 2017

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USDA’s Farm Service Agency Expands Bridges to Opportunity Nationwide

WASHINGTON-The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) today announced the expansion of a unique service for farmers and ranchers. FSA’s Bridges to Opportunity program provides a one-stop-shop that connects producers with resources, programs and educational services offered across the department, as well as from other USDA partner organizations. Bridges to Opportunity, which currently provides enhanced customer support to more than 150,000 customers in 20 states, will expand to serve customers across the country before the end of the month using fiscal year 2016 funds.

“By partnering with numerous local, state, regional and national agricultural organizations, FSA employees now can provide farmers and ranchers with comprehensive information about resources, grants, courses, events and activities provided throughout USDA and from external partner organizations,” said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini. “Bridges to Opportunity is another example of how USDA is working to reconnect people to their government and provide enhanced services to farmers and ranchers, who, in turn, provide our nation and the world with safe, affordable and reliable food, fuel and fiber.”

FSA’s presence in over 2,100 county offices, in nearly every rural county, puts the agency in a unique position to partner with non-governmental organizations to reach thousands of agricultural producers who can benefit from the programs and services.  Bridges to Opportunity allows FSA employees to search and obtain a list of all local, state, regional and national organizations that may be able assist local producers with their specific need.  For example, FSA’s Houston County office in Texas partnered with many agricultural organizations to serve producers affected by severe drought.  When drought-stricken agricultural producers came to the county office looking for assistance, FSA employees were able to provide traditional services, such as the Livestock Forage Program and the Emergency loan program administered by FSA, as well as connect local farmers with local, regional, and national organizations that provide drought assistance and education.

Bridges to Opportunity was developed by FSA to provide producers with a more comprehensive customer service experience by connecting them with other USDA agencies and nonfederal partners. Through Bridges to Opportunity, FSA county office employees have the tools to connect farmers, ranchers and anyone interested in agriculture with customized expertise on topics ranging including organic production, beginning farmer resources, integrated pest management, disaster assistance, conservation practices, agricultural educational courses, loans, grants and other financial assistance that can start, grow or benefit farming and ranching operations.

“Bridges to Opportunity embodies FSA's modernized approach to customer service. By providing a broader array of resources than FSA or USDA alone, FSA is bringing farmers and ranchers one step closer to achieving their version of the American Dream,” said Dolcini.

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