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USDA shares 2015 results: Building a stronger rural America through partnership, progress and promis
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In 2015, the USDA launched an interactive web tool designed to connect new farmers with programs and resources. - photo by Photo Contributed

This year, millions of rural businesses and families were positively impacted by U.S. Department of Agriculture investments in their communities. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released a list of USDA's top achievements in 2015, demonstrating USDA's efforts to help farmers and ranchers bring their products to tables domestically and abroad, build critical infrastructure in America's rural areas, conserve our nation's natural resources through long-lasting partnerships, and continuously work toward improving the lives of all Americans.
"Since 2009, USDA has focused significant and targeted investments in America's rural communities to bring transformative change. Last year, those investments blossomed across the United States with substantial results in the burgeoning bio-economy, an exploding local and regional food system, unparalleled investments in renewable energy, improved nutrition interventions for young people, historic partnerships in conservation and greenhouse gas reduction, and major contributions in rural infrastructure, among some," said Vilsack.
"Even with challenges in 2015, including an unprecedented animal disease outbreak and lower commodity prices, America's rural communities have proven once again that we are a nation of makers, creators and innovators, and our economy and security are stronger because of it. As we look to 2016, USDA will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to expand opportunity for America's farming families and rural communities," continued Vilsack.
Here are a few of the USDA's top outcomes in 2015:

Agriculture and Trade
• Delivered nearly $200 million to help poultry producers recover, and spent nearly $1 billion total in response to the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza outbreak.
• Achieved $139.7 billion of agricultural exports, the third-best year on record. Ensured passage of Trade Promotion Authority, and helped to complete negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
• Enrolled 1.76 million farmers in the new Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs by conducting an unprecedented educational campaign. The program has provided $4.8 billion in financial help to more than 900,000 farms that experienced a $20 billion drop in revenues during 2015.
• Helped 6,600 small, underserved and new farmers obtain credit through popular microloan program (16,000 since 2013), with 70% issued to new farmers.
• Reached a record 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States.
• Developed the first Process Verified Program claim for non-GMO/GE food products.
• Launched, an interactive web tool designed to connect new farmers with programs and resources.
Anti-Poverty Efforts and Nutrition
• Announced 97% of schools successfully meet the updated, science-based nutrition standards for school meals under Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.
• Reached more than 8.1 million kids with healthy meals through the Community Eligibility Provision. Total breakfast participation increased by more than 3 million students since 2008. CEP has been successfully implemented in over 14,000 schools and has led to a 9% increase in school breakfast participation and 5% increase in school lunch.
• In 2015, USDA and our partners served 190.6 million meals to low-income children during the summer months when school meals are not available. Since the summer of 2009, USDA has increased the number of summer meals served by 16.1% . Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, USDA has served a total of 1.2 billion summer meals.
Global Food Security
• Feed the Future reached nearly 19 million households and helped nearly 7 million farmers gain access to new tools and technologies. New data demonstrate that, through Feed the Future and other U.S. Government efforts, childhood stunting rates have declined in Ethiopia, Ghana, and parts of Kenya by between 9 and 33 percent in recent years, while areas in Uganda have seen a 16 percent drop in poverty.
Energy and Bioeconomy
• Issued a report that examines and quantifies the effect of America's biobased products industry from an economics and jobs perspective. The report notes that in 2013 alone, that industry contributed four million jobs and $369 billion to the U.S. economy.
Food Safety
• Developed the first-ever Salmonella standard for chicken parts, which will reduce illnesses by about 50,000 annually.
• Unveiled a National Action Plan designed to advance the appropriate use of antibiotics in food animals and promote collaborations among partners in medicine, veterinary medicine, and public health.
Rural Development
• Made the first investments through the $10 billion Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund and the first Rural Business Investment Company, both launched in 2014. Established two additional RBICs in 2015.
• Funded $1.8 billion in Community Facilities projects over the course of fiscal year 2015. Since 2009,USDA has awarded $9.7 billion under its Community Facilities programs, including $4.9 billion for 1,052 health care projects; $266 million for improvements to 206 public schools; $133 million for 555 libraries; $39 million for 240 day care centers; and $791 million to support 4,876 public safety facilities in rural areas. Through investments made through its Community Facilities programs, over the past two years, USDA has provided more than $213 million to support 80 rural mental health facility projects in 34 states.
• Supported the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research in its effort to provide awards to support the next generation of agricultural scientists.
• Transformative innovations that can be found in USDA's 2014 Technology Transfer Report include: Procedures to remove up to 98-percent of the allergens from peanuts without affecting the flavor; A portable method for identifying harmful bacteria in food that could improve the response to foodborne illness outbreaks; A new soil nitrogen test that rapidly and inexpensively determines the total amount of nitrogen in the soil that is available to a plant, reducing costs for farmers while benefiting the environment.

Civil Rights
• To address long-standing allegations of past discrimination, the USDA settled large-scale class-action lawsuits with Native American and African American farmers and ranchers and established a voluntary claims process for women and Hispanic farmers and ranchers, providing payments of more than $2.5 billion combined and over $118 million in debt forgiveness.