USDA will expand efforts to bring farmers, rural residents and businesses greater access to improved telecommunications technology through the financing of more than $1.4 billion in loans and loan guarantees to rural providers, says Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

In addition, she announced that the president will propose spending $196 million for that program in its fiscal year 2004 budget. Another $177 million are proposed to upgrade county service centers, most of which will be used to provide geographic information system technology to these offices. That would give farmers and ranchers more access to satellite mapping and planting information.

“More effective computer systems and satellite technologies will help USDA provide better services to our nation's farmers and ranchers, who rely so heavily on our services and programs,” says Veneman.