Agriculture Secretary Vilsack’s priorities for the 2012 farm bill

Oct 29, 2011
by WLJ

The next farm bill will most likely have less funding than the current one, and USDA is going to have to learn to do more, with less, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Speaking at the John Deere Des Moines Works in Iowa last week, Vilsack emphasized the importance of simplifying existing programs. “We need to reduce redundant provisions; and we need to put a premium on creating innovative solutions to address our current and future problems, also recognizing the importance of making targeted investments to keep agricultural productivity high and our rural communities vibrant,” he said.

Vilsack emphasized that three core principles needed to be protected and advanced as Congress worked on the next farm bill.

“We need to maintain a strong safety net, we need to support sustainable productivity, and we need to promote vibrant markets,” he said.

Safety nets need to become more efficient. “Producers need assistance quickly after they lose their crops to a natural disaster. Their bankers are not going to wait two years to make loan payments.”

Conservation programs need to remain a key part of the farm bill. “I want to encourage Congress to continue their commitment to improve conservation programs, to maintain a robust investment in voluntary conservation assistance, and to encourage our efforts towards regulatory certainty tied to conservation,” he added.

Referring to the recent trade agreements, Vilsack said more trade agreements need to be explored. “Congress can continue this success story and build on it with continued investments in USDA’s trade promotion programs, which studies have shown return a 31-dollar, for every dollar we invest, return on investment,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack wants to continue making the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program, more efficient.

“We stopped payments to tens of thousands of individuals who weren’t qualified and sanctioned more than 1,800 stores for improper trafficking of SNAP benefits or other violations. And we want to work with Congress to continue this work, to improve our data collection, to reduce our error rate, and to stop fraud.”

Creating jobs and improving Americans’ quality of life is also a priority for the next farm bill, according to Vilsack. The farm bill should contain funding to expand the production of advanced biofuels.

“I’m hoping that Congress, as it looks at the farm bill, understands and appreciates the significance of the BCAP [Biomass Crop Assistance] program and the REAP [Rural Energy for America] program, two programs that are continued— worthy of continued investment. Just in 2009 and 2010, USDA invested in more than 22,000 renewable energy projects. We’re pursuing this next generation of advanced biofuels by helping communities and companies invest to build those biorefineries, we’re funding regional research, and we’re helping farmers to establish those biofuel crops,” he said.

Continuing rural America’s recovery should be one of the keys to the next farm bill, according to Vilsack.

“It’s been a long time coming, but rural America’s making a comeback, and Congress’ important work on this bill will lead to a much brighter, more hopeful, and more optimistic future for rural America.” — WLJ