The Farm Bill’s Rural Development title addresses rural community and economic development through a variety of USDA programs, from broadband investments to waste and water disposal and wastewater treatment facilities, from general business assistance to rural energy, electrification, and cybersecurity.
The 2018 Farm Bill has a re-energized focus on rural public health, addressing opioid abuse and authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to prioritize assistance under some loan and grant programs to respond to this crisis.
Funding for broadband projects increased under the amended Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program, which also increased the minimum acceptable levels of rural broadband service. The 2018 Farm Bill prioritizes delivering broadband services to small, underserved rural areas in order to combat outmigration that may result in economic downturns in these rural areas as well as low-income that deprives people of a good standard of living. The Innovative Broadband Advancement Program, Middle Mile Infrastructure Program, and Community Connect Program all work to provide rural broadband services in different ways.
Another important component of Title VI is investment in community infrastructure — the 2018 Farm Bill “permits the Secretary to provide the Water, Waste Disposal, and Wastewater Facility grants to entities that assist eligible rural water systems with long term sustainability planning” (USDA ERS). Although the authorization of appropriations for these grants was reduced, appropriation for the Rural Water and Wastewater Circuit Ride Program and the Emergency and Imminent Community Water Assistance Grant Program increased. Additionally the maximum amount of funding an eligible entity may receive was increased in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The 2018 Farm Bill also expanded the Value-Added Agricultural Producer Grants, which help farmers and ranchers diversify into markets such as local and regional food systems and specialty crop production. The program prioritizes grants for small and medium-sized farms and ranches, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and veterans. These grants are part of a larger, combined program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which is discussed further under Title X: Horticulture.
The Council on Rural Community Innovation and Economic Development was established to address rural needs through working groups focusing on job acceleration, integration of smart technologies, and making recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture (Congressional Research Service). Other programs focused on helping develop the economy were added to establish grants and resources for technical assistance and training, including the Technical Assistance Program for Tribal Entities, the Rural Business-Cooperative Service Programs Technical Assistance and Training, and the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy Grant Program.