Journal of the NACAA
Volume 6, Issue 2 - December, 2013
Necessary Approaches to USDA Program Access and Outreach toward American Indians and other Minority Audiences
- Emm, S., Extension Educator, University Of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Lewis, S., Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
Singletary, L, Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension
American Indian agriculture operations contribute significantly to the economic base of rural reservations. Farm Bill provisions offer considerable opportunities for USDA program implementation, however, these programs are under-utilized on reservations. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension conducted a research study with American Indian farmers, ranchers and tribes in a six state area of the Western United States to identify perceived access to USDA programs. Research results address how Extension and other USDA agencies need to understand the social and political environment unique to each particular reservation, in addition to its physical environment, inclusive of agricultural, land tenure, and natural resource issues.
The USDA, Office of Advocacy and Outreach provided funding in 2011 for the University of Nevada Cooperative to design a community-based research study that addresses why specific USDA programs are under-utilized by American Indians in a six-state area of the Western United States. The American Indian agricultural industries in the targeted 6-state region (Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota) are important to the economic sustainability of rural communities on reservations. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture (2007), approximately 8,515,189 acres of land in farms are operated by American Indian farmers and ranchers in this 6-state region.
USDA Program Access Research Methods
The community-based research project encompassed three different components to identify USDA program access. This included actual program utilization by American Indian farmers and ranchers; reservation demographics; and perspectives on ways to improve USDA program utilization. Secondary data collection was used to determine the actual number of American Indian farmers and ranchers utilizing USDA programs in the six-state area, compared to the total number of American Indian farmers and ranchers in the project area. In addition, outreach specialists were hired to collect reservation demographics in the six western states and identify what current USDA programs were being utilized, the recognition of the programs within USDA, and the cultural implications of utilizing USDA programs (Emm, Singletary, Lewis et al, 2011).
Primary data was collected through a needs assessment and focus group sessions. The purpose of conducting the needs assessment was to identify issues of greatest concern on reservation lands from individuals directly involved in agriculture and resource management; and to provide direction to better tailor USDA outreach programming to American Indian tribes and agriculture producers. Focus group session development and implementation was designed to provide insight into the implementation of USDA programs on American Indian reservations and how all parties can change behavior to increase USDA program participation.
Research Results on Access to USDA Programs
The primary data collected through the needs assessment resulted in American Indians perceiving to have only “fair to neutral” access to USDA programs, ranking access neither high nor low. This implies that there is room for Extension and other USDA agencies to improve access to programs. Table 1 shows the perceived access to USDA programs. University Extension (Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Programs - FRTEP) and Natural Resource Conservation Service were rated the highest by needs assessment participants. The same two programs which ranked highest for access were also ranked highest for quality, with a similar ranking Mean.
on Reservation Lands
University Extension programs including Federal Recognized Tribal Extension programs
Natural Resource Conservation Service programs
Farm Service Agency programs
Risk Management Agency crops insurance programs
Overall agricultural assistance to American Indians on reservations
Rural Development loans and grant programs
Bureau of Indian Affairs programs
Rating Code: 1 = Poor; 2 = Fair; 3 = Neutral; 4 = Good; 5 = Excellent
Table 1. Access to USDA Programs on Reservation Lands in a six-state area.
Focus group sessions were conducted in May and June, 2011, in five western states including Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and South Dakota. One major theme was the difficulty American Indians have in accessing, understanding, and complying with the USDA program requirements. Participants were quick to admit they could be more dedicated to fulfilling the requirements, learning about the program details, and gaining access; but added that the complexity of the system is definitely a deterrent. Focus group participants brainstormed a number of ways they could improve their program success. They know it is a reciprocal relationship and both USDA and tribal entities, including individual producers have much to accomplish to optimize program utilization.
Discussion On Access to USDA Programs
It is not likely that program participation will increase unless USDA tailors programs to address unique American Indian reservation needs. This becomes especially important when collateral requirements for USDA loans can be impossible due to land titles held in trust. Qualification processes, statistics used to set prices, timelines, and recommended agricultural practices were also subjects of concern. Many participants acted as though there is little reason to work to earn program qualification unless these and other changes/adjustments are made to better serve them and their reservation. Responses indicated a willingness to help USDA better understands specific needs, but motivation to do so was not high.
In contrast, the effects of USDA programming over the years were largely recognized as positive and worth the struggle of dealing with USDA. The greatest effect, according to respondents, was on environmental/natural resources conditions. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) appeared to be the USDA program used most successfully within the reservations sampled for this study. Beyond EQIP, participants were aware that a smorgasbord of USDA programs exists, but to wade through the maze of information and hassle is more than they’re willing to bear. They need assistance to match their goals to appropriately suited programs.
Discussion on USDA Program Implementation
These results illustrate the need to proactively market USDA programs to American Indian populations in ways that are more culturally accepted and embraced. This effort requires that USDA professionals learn about and develop appreciation for the tribal cultures within which they work. It also requires USDA to learn more about the social and political environment unique to a particular reservation, in addition to its physical environment, inclusive of agricultural and natural resource issues. The results also indicate the need to redesign outreach programs to facilitate ease of use, thereby increasing population coverage on reservation lands. These combined actions may help to improve perceived access to and actual use of USDA programs.
When looking at program delivery and access, it must be recognized that there are particular social systems in dealing with socially disadvantaged populations. The American Indian population is impacted by hundreds of years of federal policy that created the agricultural social systems on reservations. It is this social system that adopts or rejects USDA programs regardless of potential benefits to the producer and profit potential for the agricultural business.
A rural sociologist published the Diffusion of Innovations in 1962 incorporating research from hundreds of diffusion studies and produced a theory based on his interest in farmers in Iowa who delayed the acceptance of new ideas that could have made their businesses more profitable. Rogers explains that diffusion is the process in which an innovation is communicated through different channels over a period of time in a particular social system. This communication system, based on new ideas, brings with it uncertainty and a kind of social change (Rogers, 2003).
Knowledge of programs is the first step, and the need for the USDA program will precede the awareness (knowledge) of the USDA program. This puts in question whether a traditional outreach approach of talking to a group of farmers will result in program implementation. It was found that knowledge of the programs has not been leading to program engagement. Persuasion is dependent on the message received, and must be perceived as credible and workable. Persuasion, in the form of success stories, may help a prospective applicant reach a decision of whether or not a USDA program is suitable.
In making a decision the American Indian producer could adopt the program and accept the regulation with the program, or choose to reject the program. Once the decision was made to apply application requirements commence. Up to this point, decisions were made through the producer verbally understanding the program and its regulations. The implementation of the program changed producer behavior to do something that they have not done before. The costs and benefits of USDA program implementation was then validated or rejected in the American Indian social system based on overall program success. When the program was accepted, reinvented, rejected, or lead to certain consequences, behavior towards USDA programs change in the reservation social system and the USDA professional became familiar with the culture and unique circumstances on the reservation.
Outreach Based on Perceived Access and Program Implementation
Outreach plans can be created by USDA agencies to enhance program ease-of-access perception. The process of building an outreach plan begins by identifying the type(s) of outreach needed, and creating communication, trust and accountability strategies to meet mutual goals. The logic model (W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2004) is one effective programming tool that is outcome-based leading to overall accountability. It is not the only tool, and agencies need to choose tools and models that can be integrated into their agency to improve overall accountability and program impact.
An agency outreach plan should be goal related and utilize new tools and strategies available to create relevance for USDA professional staff. The goal should be to determine how to create an outreach and accountability environment that is challenging but leads to self-fulfillment for the professional and participant (Taylor & Fratto, 2012). Every professional gets trapped in his/her world views or old ways of thinking. The first question in any outreach plan should be: “How can we do things differently taking into consideration the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and communication channels of the target audience?”
The outreach plan should take professionals out of their comfort zone -- to take action differently than they ever have before based on the expertise, resources and programs they are implementing. Producers want to know how USDA programs will help them deal with their current situations and the reservation environments that they must work within -- engage producers, work through the communication channels, build trust, and implement the outreach plan based on the accountability of agency selected goals.
This research suggests a new approach to USDA program access and outreach is needed. Outreach should be conducted on a one-on-one basis. Ideally, USDA professionals meet with American Indians on the farm and assist them to establish goals. Rather than presenting a litany of programs during a group presentation via powerpoint, the USDA professional should first get acquainted with the prospective applicant’s circumstances and assist, if necessary, to determine the applicant’s goals. Next, the professional can share examples, or success stories, of programs used to accomplish similar goals on other farms and their relative effectiveness. Once a suitable program is selected the application requirements are discussed and a timeline is prepared so that deadlines and associated paperwork are clearly understood. A meeting schedule is also developed for one-on-one sessions to insure good communications and successful program execution.
These results on perceived access illustrate the need to proactively market USDA programs to American Indian populations in ways that are more culturally accepted and embraced. This effort requires that USDA professionals learn about and develop appreciation for the Indian social systems and cultures within which they work. Extension and other USDA agencies also need to understand the social and political environment unique to each particular reservation, in addition to its physical environment, inclusive of agricultural, land tenure, and natural resource issues. The results also indicate the need to redesign outreach programs to facilitate ease of use, thereby increasing population coverage on reservation lands. These combined actions may help to improve perceived access to and actual use of USDA programs on reservation lands.
Covey, S. M. R., (2006). The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Emm, S., Singletary, L., Lewis, S., Brummer, F., Hebb, V., & Frazier, K. (2012) American Indian Farmer and Rancher USDA Improvement Project. CM-12-06. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
Rogers, E. M., (2003). Diffusion of Innovations. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Seevers, B., Graham, D., Gamon, J. & Conklin, N. (1997). Education through Cooperative Extension. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers.
Seymour, K., Dibble, J., and Allen, L. (2008). Veggies for Kids Grow Strong Nutrition Education Program. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension CM-08-10.
Taylor, L. & Fratto, J. (2012). Transforming Learning through 21 Century Skills. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
USDA, Government Accountability Office. (2008). United States Department of Agriculture Management of Civil Rights Efforts Continues to Be Deficient Despite Years of Attention statement of Lisa Shames, Director Natural Resources and Environment. GAO-08-755T
USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. (2011). Secretary Vilsack’s Efforts to Address Discrimination at USDA. Retrieved 8/9/11 from http://www.ascr.usda.gov/cr_at_usda.html
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. (2004). Logic Model Development Guide. Retrieved 11/29/13 from http://www.wkkf.org/resource-directory/resource/2006/02/wk-kellogg-foundation-logic-model-development-guide.