Texas County resident Amy Hamilton addresses the crowd during the StrikeForce meeting in Houston.

StrikeForce, a federal initiative that is expanding to Missouri was highlighted last week during a regional meeting in Houston before area leaders.

StrikeForce will target 46 counties, including Texas County, to increase rural growth and opportunity in areas with high poverty. Brad McCord, state outreach coordinator for Natural Resource Conservation Service, said the goal is to decrease poverty, invest in rural communities, increase opportunities for families and assist underserved farmers and ranchers.

Representatives of other USDA agencies who highlighted more about the program and the opportunities to help rural communities joined McCord.

Launched by USDA in 2010, the program has worked with selected states to bring targeted assistance to rural areas. More than $23.5 billion has been used to create jobs, build houses, feed kids, assist farmers and conserve natural resources across more than 20 states. This year, Missouri joins Florida, Montana and Ohio in inclusion in the program.

“If we can do something to improve the community, then that’s what we want to do,” said Mark Cadle, executive director of Farm Service Agency in Missouri. “Let’s race to improve the quality of life.”

Houston was among five communities in southwest Missouri to learn more about the program. Other rollouts were at St. Genevieve, Sikeston, Mount Vernon and Springfield.

Greg Batson, Missouri Rural Development’s program support director, highlighted the opportunities for brick and mortar investment, along with help targeted to businesses, communities and housing.

State leaders have held several regional meetings in Missouri to receive input on community needs. A common topic, they said, was the need for better Internet broadband service in rural areas that are underserved or don’t have access.

Opportunities also exist for healthcare, community efforts to increase food production to help generate income for farmers and initiatives to better the agriculture community.

Applications to federal agencies for assistance gain 10 extra points if located in a StrikeForce county, Batson said.

A local success story also was highlighted, as Amy Hamilton of Elk Creek shared about Grazing Diverse Native Grasslands, a project that was conducted through a grant from Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation. The multiyear effort resulted in additional grass production and heavier cows and calves with higher conception rates. The end result shows more profitability for farmers.

More information is available online at https://www.hamiltonnativeoutpost.com/blog.php?post_id=7.

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