The role of various USDA agencies in Arizona

By: Fran Alvarado, Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Certificate student 

This blog is part of a series from the December Arizona Immersive program of the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Certificate Program. Students virtually toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff and non-profit leaders.

The Food Policy and Leadership gathered for an immersive week of learning from food policy leaders and met three excellent leaders at the USDA. We met Mike Stevens from Farm Service Agency, Jack Smith from Rural Development, and NRCS state conservationist Keisha Tatem. Everyday, these three leaders help farmers across the 15 counties in Arizona. 

Stevens was the county executive from Minnesota. Stevens’s current position serves Yuma. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) was a program authorized through the 2018 Farm Bill. In this position, Stevens helps with farm policy, loan programs, and manages conservation. FSA is the record keeper of all acreage, crop insurance not covered by risk management programs, and has representatives in each county across the US.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is the environmental arm of the USDA. Keisha Tatem works directly with farmers dealing with natural resources and collects data. This data helps with controlling runoff, water quantity, and overall sustainability in land management. There is not one solution for natural resource conservation and many factors play a role in how the land should be managed.

Jack Smith is the Arizona State Director for USDA Rural Development (RD). Smith was appointed to this position in July 2019. Smith works directly with rural communities to help their communities to prosper through development. This development can form new infrastructure, housing programs, and policy. One of Smith’s favorite programs is housing. One program in particular is the  self-help housing program which helps farmers build 75% of their house and only owe $100k after completion of building the house. 

Food Policy and Leadership students shared their thoughts on housing programs, farm loans, and infrastructure in rural communities. The class also discussed how COVID-19 has played a role in rural farmers’ lives. The work to help support rural farmers can not be done with one program. Their interactions with each agency show the importance of relationships, communication, and collaboration to help farmers in Arizona.