USDA at 140 Characters at a Time

Head of USDA Rural Development talks infrastructure, conservation and more during 'virtual office hours.'

Published on: Jun 19, 2012

Twitter - love it or hate it - has become an efficient tool for connecting with the general public. From local news reporters who get consumer react to their stories, to national figures that keep fans informed, the tool is valuable. Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held "virtual office hours" on Twitter. Tuesday, it was Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O'Brien's turn.

He spent an hour online answering 10 questions, and injecting his own comments, during the session. He was limited by the 140-character count that Twitter holds users too, so he answered questions in "tweet series" that allow you to get the whole flavor of the answer. What follows is the session in O'Brien's own "tweets." He signs each one ^do'b so you know it's Doug O'Brien answering.

RURAL DEVELOPMENT CHAT: Doug OBrien, head of USDA Rural Development, answered questions over Twitter Tuesday.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT CHAT: Doug O'Brien, head of USDA Rural Development, answered questions over Twitter Tuesday.

You'll also get used to the "patter" of twitter with its abbreviations - we have not edited the questions or responses:

Q1 RT @foodandbevjobs: Why your department? Home ownership and agriculture not necessarily related. #AskUSDA

A1: Our mission is to help #rural communities thrive. RD is 1 of 7 mission areas @USDA, we focus on needs of rural comms. ^do'b

A1(cont) For #rural comms to thrive need safe & affordable #housing stock We have comprehensive set of prog for single, multi-fam homes^do'b

For more info on all of @usdaRD 's #housing programs, visit: ow.ly/bGtcS #askUSDA

Q2 RT @fndi303: What types of new home ownership programs will be promoted in Indian Country #askUSDA

A2: Good Q. I testified at Senate cmte on Indian Affairs ~3mos ago on this very topic. Native communities all elig to use our progs ^do'b

A2cont: In particular our single fam housing direct loan program assists poor & very poor families in purchasing homes ^do'b

A2con't: We also do a lot of work with our infrastructure programs in Tribal communities. Last wk we announced final regs for SUTA ^do'b

Q3 MT @SustainNW: How's @usdaRD helping rural communities to secure local ownershp & equity in biomass, wind & solar #energy devel? #AskUSDA

A3: We've focused on helping farms & small biz produce renewable #energy for the US. Since '09 Renewable Energy for America Program.. ^do'b

A3cont: Since 09 REAP has provided over 5700 small farms & bizs grants & loans for renewable energy & efficiency projects including...^do'b

A3cont: Including geothermal, wind, biomass, solar. For those interested in local capacity visit our Energy Tool: ow.ly/bGuoB ^do'b

Q4 RT @ruraled: #AskUSDA about ways #rural schools can use home loans & teacher housing for recruitment, retention, http://t.co/fZo33pDg

A4: Another great Q. I'll focus on 2 programs: 1) Community Facilities provides loans & grants to schools for computers to new bldgs. ^do'b

A4cont: In last 3yrs we've financed 730+ education facilities. Read the Community Facilities report for more: ow.ly/bGuNy ^dob

A4cont: 2) Worked w @usedgov & local school districts to explain how #housing progs can be used to recruit teachers to #rural areas ^do'b

Q5 RT @smokeymtnvet: #AskUSDA How do I take advantage of low interest rate refinance rural program?

A5: We announced a pilot in Feb (ow.ly/bGv71) to help USDA borrowers in 19 states take adv of historically low interest rates ^do'b

A5cont: With a @usdaRD direct or guaranteed loan, is current on mortgage for past yr & whose rate is 100 basis pts higher than refi rate^dob

A5cont: ...will be able to refi even if their home is "under water". ^do'b

Q6 RT @WTXEDD: Do you know of any new collaborative funding opps similar to the Rural Acc Challenge for rural communities? #AskUSDA

A6: Yes look at Adv Manufacturing Jobs Acc ow.ly/bGvA5. This is lastest ex of the Obama Admin knocking down bureaucratic silos^do'b

A6cont: ...to support locally led economic development strategies. ^do'b

Q7 MT @RCAPInc: #AskUSDA What's admin's plan for helping replace water infrastructure - pipes /treatment plants - not just roads /bridges?

A7: Water infrastructure is critical to future of #rural communities. ^do'b

A7cont: In last 3yrs we've invested in 5100 water infra projects to help safeguard the health of 18 mln rural residents. ^do'b

A7cont: Yet the needs are still great. We need to redouble our efforts to partner w/ other public&private actors to meet impt needs ^do'b

Q8 RT @MegsStrickland: Does USDA forsee funding to communities too impoverished to match grants or fund other stipulations to broadband aid?

A8: The President's budget in yrs past has sought funding for #broadband loans and the Recovery Act incl $3bln+ in grant/loan financing^do'b

A8cont: With these resources we've been able to help 7mln+ #rural residents receive new or improved #broadband access. ^do'b

A8cont: Also Senate considering #FoodFarmJobsBill that includes a grant prog for #broadband. POTUS made clear how essential this is ^do'b

Q9 RT @christysuzy: Does small family farm have a future, or are days of a farmer being able to provide for family a thing of the past?

A9: Sec Vilsack has talked about the opportunities for both large scale ag & smaller, locally based ag. ^do'b

A9cont: With incr interest in regional & #localfood we've seen significant opps for new farmers that we haven't seen in decades ^do'b #KYF2

A9cont: @usdaRD has Value Added Producer Grants w/ priority for new farmers & @usdafsa has loans targeted to beginning farmers ^do'b

As a farm kid who grew up in Iowa in the 80s, I've seen more excitement & interest in farming from young ppl than I have in my life. ^do'b

Q10 RT @sustainnw: What #conservation actions do @usdaRD see playing a role in #rural economic development? #AskUSDA

A10: For #rural comms to thrive they need clean water & air. We've seen incr interest in rural recreation - hiking, trails, hunting - ^do'b

A10cont: ppl are willing to pay land owners for using their land. Supporting reg econ dev strategies that seek to take adv of this ^do'b

A10cont: In last 3 yrs @usda_nrcs enrolled record # of acres of private working lands in #conservation progs w/ 500k+ farmers&ranchers ^do'b

A10cont: In last 3 yrs @usda_nrcs enrolled record # of acres of private working lands in #conservation progs w/ 500k+ farmers&ranchers ^do'b

I should mention the work of the White House #RuralCouncil. President Obama created WHRC about 1yr ago...^do'b

(cont) WHRC with a goal of better coordination by feds to serve #rural communities more effectively. ^do'b

Since then, many agencies have worked together to streamline investment in econ dev strategies, #healthcare equip, #conservation projs ^do'b

Read the recent report from the WH #RuralCouncil: ow.ly/bGylT #askUSDA

Q11 RT @harman_tom: @USDA Are any changes planned for RD grant applications in the coming year?? #AskUSDA

A11: Yes. For example: Little later this summer the latest VAPG NOFA will be much shorter & easier to work with. ^do'b

A11cont: As we go thru rulemaking in other programs - Community Facilities, REAP - we look fwd to a simplified application process ^do'b

Closing comment tweets

This has been a great conversation. Maybe the most impt piece of info I can share is that @usdaRD has approx 500 offices in #rural US ^do'b

Finally, thank you for taking the time this afternoon and more importantly thank you for what you do in your #rural communities ^do'b