BISMARCK (AP) - Two universities in the Dakotas are each getting close to $50,000 in federal money to help educate farmers and ranchers about the new farm bill.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is doling out $3 million nationwide to university extension services for outreach and education on the farm legislation signed into law in February, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The nearly $100 billion-a-year farm bill sets policy for hundreds of programs, ranging from farm subsidies to nutrition. New legislation usually is written every five years.
"Helping farmers and ranchers understand new farm bill programs and what the programs mean for their families is one of USDA's top priorities," Vilsack said in a statement this week. "With the resources we're providing, university experts will help ensure farmers and ranchers are highly educated as they make critical decisions about new programs that impact their livelihoods. The new tools that will be developed will empower farmers and ranchers to select the plan that best fits their unique needs."
The money will fund outreach meetings where producers can talk with extension agents and staff with the Farm Service Agency, which oversees federal farm programs, to get a better understanding of the new programs and their options. The meetings are to begin late this summer.
About $44,000 is going to the extension service at North Dakota State University in Fargo and about $46,000 is going to the service at South Dakota State in Brookings.
NDSU Extension Service Director Chris Boerboom said planning for the workshops is still in the early stages, "but our specialists are busy working on resources for producers."
South Dakota State has contacted other universities in the region as well as the state Farmers Union about possibly collaborating, said Alvaro Garcia, director of the school's Agriculture and Natural Resources Program.
"Independent of collaborative joint efforts, SDSU Extension will host face-to-face and or remote conferences through the Digital Dakota Network or DDN in each of its eighth regional centers," Garcia said.
USDA also is providing $3 million for officials at the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri and Texas A&M to develop online tools for producers and train experts to educate farmers.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., applauded the effort.
"Many farm bill experts in North Dakota have studied these programs for years but have questions and concerns about the way in which new programs are being implemented," Cramer said.