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Rural prosperity task force releases report, recommendations

WASHINGTON — The Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity has presented President Donald Trump with a report on ways to improve life in rural areas.

Trump on April 25, 2017, established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity through an executive order. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was made the chair of the group, which then held listening sessions and took comments through an online portal.

The task force was to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes to promote agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security and quality of life in rural America.

"While other sectors of the American economy have largely recovered from the Great Recession, rural America has lagged in almost every indicator," Perdue wrote in a letter in the report. "Your charge to identify and recommend a pathway back to prosperity for these fellow citizens is one we have taken seriously."

The report, presented to the president on Jan. 8, identifies five "Calls to Action," each with recommendations for improvements: Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America, Improving Quality of Life, Supporting a Rural Workforce, Harnessing Technological Innovation and Developing the Rural Economy.

To achieve the objectives set out in the report, the task force also recommends the president establish a federal commission on agriculture and rural prosperity that would meet at least bi-annually and prepare regular reports to the president on its progress. It also recommends establishing a stakeholder advisory council to advise the commission and establishing a managing director to oversee both the commission and the advisory council.

Many of the recommendations throughout the report involve improving cooperation among federal agencies, establishing additional task forces, reducing regulatory burdens and finding better ways to utilize existing resources.

Recommendations in the area of Harnessing Technological Innovation included numerous recommendations related to biotechnology, including improving public acceptance of biotech products and using a science-based regulatory for biotech products.

"Globally, the biotechnology sector is a driver of the 'fourth industrial revolution,' and presents an incredible opportunity for American farmers and rural communities to thrive at the forefront of innovation," the report states.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization in a statement said it welcomes the recommendations.

"As the report states, scientific advancements in biotechnology have produced a thriving and successful industrial sector aimed at addressing our world's most pressing challenges," said Jim Greenwood, the organization's president and CEO. "Further innovations in genome editing technology will unlock even more promises in agriculture production, animal health and welfare, biofuels and renewable chemical development, and biobased manufacturing."

Recommendations for improving broadband access were applauded by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

"This task force report rightfully identifies a number of key areas that are essential to economic growth, and nearly all depend on expanded access to high-speed internet," said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson in a statement. "For decades, electric cooperatives have enhanced the quality of life throughout rural America. Now, co-ops across the nation are helping reinvigorate rural economies by bringing broadband access to homes and businesses."

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also expressed his support for the recommendations.

"Agriculture and rural communities form the bedrock of our state, and the task force's recommendations on innovation, workforce, connectivity and economic development provide a roadmap for how to help our rural areas prosper in a 21st century economy. We look forward to working with the administration to help bring these recommendations to fruition for the benefit of current and future generations," he said in a statement.

For more information on the task force's work, visit https://www.usda.gov/ruralprosperity. To read the full report, visit https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/rural-prosperity-report.pdf.

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