U.S. Department of Agriculture announcements last week touting $15 million to target rural areas that experience “persistent poverty” sounded like a pretty nice boost from the federal government, until the fine print was read. That $15 million must be spread over 20 states, as part of the USDA’s StrikeForce initiative. West Virginia’s share of that money will be spread over 30 counties.
But even a little money will help local farmers, right? Maybe. It turns out, the funding comes through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and is to be used for conservation activities, including water conservation improvements and soil protection. In the span of one news release, the USDA goes from sending money to “break the cycle of rural poverty” to investing in “targeted conservation funding.”
It is a nice little attempt at improving public relations, but there is very little digging necessary to realize the “assistance” from the USDA will come out to an average of less than $21,500 per county – once – and only for federal government-approved environmental improvements. More than likely, West Virginia farmers would welcome even those few thousand dollars in assistance, if they were allowed to decide what would best help them break the cycle of financial struggle on their farms.
As Hardy County poultry farmer Lois Alt proved last year when she won her lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its effort to classify routine stormwater discharge as a fixed pollution source, the federal government is usually the last to understand what is best for both farmers and the environment.
It is a shame the USDA is holding hostage even the little bit of financial assistance that is available, under the guise of forcing farmers to “improve” their lands.