Community Dividend

USDA report explores what rural means

Published July 1, 2013  | July 2013 issue

In a recently released report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development division discusses the multiple ways the word rural is defined across its 40-plus program areas. The rural designation is crucial for determining whether the location of a proposed activity is eligible for USDA Rural Development grants and loans, but there is no common definition of rural in use by the agency. For example, a default definition listed in the 2008 Farm Bill defines an area as rural if it is not a city or town with a population greater than 50,000, and if it is not urbanized land adjacent to such a city or town; however, for practical reasons, some USDA Rural Development programs need to apply exceptions that reduce the population cap in the definition to 20,000, or even 10,000. According to the report, inconsistencies in the definition create arbitrary barriers between geographic areas that can reduce communities’ ability to pursue regional development strategies. The report includes a matrix of the assorted rural definitions used by the agency and lists recommendations for addressing the inconsistencies. To read more, visit the Reports section of the USDA Rural Development web site at