Farming resources delivered via cloud (ShutterStock image)

Farming resources delivered via cloud

The Farm Service Agency assists farmers with agricultural and financial questions through thousands of field offices across the county, but sometimes those farmers need educational, technical or financial information that isn’t available from FSA.

A new FSA program, Bridges to Opportunity, seeks to ensure that agency offices are providing information on all services available to farmers, including those from universities and state, regional and national agricultural organizations outside FSA.

The cloud-based Bridges to Opportunity aims to facilitate knowledge sharing among FSA employees and give them access to an expanded web of programs, experts or financial help for farmers. Based on the Salesforce Service Cloud, it allows users to quickly search a centralized database using keywords or look for programs addressing similar needs or in specific locations.  

The service offers staff an online library of information packages that address common questions from customers about services and problems, such as drought relief, beginning farmer information and disaster assistance. Bridges also has a networking feature that allows field staff to reach out to their colleagues, share best practices and provide feedback on Bridges in real time.

It lets FSA workers find experts or other resources, print or email the information to the customer and let any partner organizations know about the customer’s interest. Latrice Hill, the director of the FSA Outreach Division, said FSA staff is often directing people to other USDA programs, but Bridges to Opportunity is not limited to that. It could be used to connect a farmer with an organic farming expert at a college or help him find a value-added producer grant, Hill said.

Bridges to Opportunity was very much an employee-driven effort, Hill said. The FSA workers noticed a gap and wanted to find a way to fill it. It began as a pilot program in 2014 and is now used nationwide.

“We figured there was a way to be proactive and find a way to address some of these inquiries and provide information on behalf of the department, not just the agency,” she said.

The platform was developed in close coordination with the FSA pilot team and users. The upgrade from legacy IT systems to the customer relationship management cloud will create time and cost efficiencies for FSA, Salesforce officials said. It will allow staff to more easily access and share information with customers and partners as well as track and monitor referrals, according to a report by the National Academy of Public Administration.

FSA employees are now being trained on the system. By March the agency will be able to provide a receipt of all citizen interaction via the Service Cloud, Hill said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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