Vilsack to continue push for farm bill

Jan 18, 2013

With the fiscal cliff arguably averted, and a bit of a déjà vu on a new farm bill deadline ahead, the Obama administration announced that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will continue for the president’s second term.

“President Obama and I share a deep appreciation for rural America and its unlimited potential in the years ahead to feed a growing world population, revolutionize America’s energy, further protect our natural resources, and create more jobs here at home. We will continue to urge Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will help us continue USDA’s wide range of efforts to support this work. As we look ahead to a promising future in our small towns and rural communities, I am pleased to continue working alongside President Obama to grow more opportunity in rural America,” Vilsack said in a released statement.

In one of his first public speeches following the announcement, Vilsack addressed attendees at the American Farm Bureau meetings in Nashville, TN, highlighting not only the challenges facing rural America, but also the potential.

Vilsack urged farmers and producers to take advantage of innovation, job creation partnerships, and to share their story of a modern, innovative, inspiring rural America with new audiences.

“Rural America is leading innovation in this country today,” said Vilsack. “Rural areas can benefit tremendously through the bioeconomy, whether producing cutting-edge new products or advanced biofuels from crops and plant products. We are learning more about what can be made from wood and forest products. We are discovering groundbreaking medical benefits associated with many homegrown products, and much more.”

Vilsack told attendees that there is unlimited opportunity to grow the rural economy by harnessing the potential of this work. He highlighted a number of ways in which USDA is working to create new markets for innovation.

“At USDA, my goal in the coming years is to work with our partners to promote rural investment through research and collaboration. We must create new agricultural products that provide a renewed opportunity for the next generation of American farmers,” Vilsack said. “We are particularly focused on developing new foreign and domestic markets and promoting conservation and recreation in our rural communities. We must also continue to strengthen the biobased economy.”

Vilsack outlined the valuable role research plays in boosting crop production. Farmers and ranchers grow more than ever before, with today’s corn farmers growing four times as many bushels per acre as farmers just 60 years ago.

Vilsack noted that USDA under the Obama administration has pursued new markets at home and abroad for U.S. commodities, with cumulative 2009-2012 exports reaching $478 billion, the best four years in history. He noted Obama’s efforts to secure new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

The secretary highlighted how USDA’s efforts have boosted local and regional marketing opportunities. The number of farmers markets in America increasing by 67 percent compared to 2008. Additionally, more than 200 regional food hubs are in existence today.

USDA, said the secretary, has taken steps to monetize the tremendous conservation efforts going on across rural America. USDA is taking steps to create new ecosystem markets to help landowners earn revenue for conservation while giving companies increased options to meet regulatory requirements. At the same time, USDA is pioneering new uses for forest products by funding research into nanotechnology to develop new plant-based construction materials.

Vilsack said USDA is continuing to support growth of a new biobased economy, creating a “USDA Biobased Product” label that links manufacturers of more than 25,000 plant-based products with buyers. It is promoting production of feedstocks to be converted into biofuel, and through research and loan support, is promoting the development of new-generation refineries. The department is also working with the Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration on ‘drop in’ biofuels that can supplement traditional fossil fuels used to power ships and planes.

Vilsack set new goals for USDA in the remarks, promising the department would build on its successes since 2009 by establishing more local and regional markets and food hubs, assist additional companies in producing biobased products, establish additional conservation certainty agreements, and take steps to strengthen ecosystem markets.

Vilsack also challenged Farm Bureau members to aggressively tell the story of a modern, innovative and inspiring rural America. “Rural communities, organizations and leaders must reach new audiences to strengthen the understanding of the agricultural sector,” Vilsack said.

Citing the recent failure by Congress to act on a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill, he challenged rural America to ensure its voice is more clearly understood in Washington and around the country.

Vilsack said that USDA will continue taking new steps to help rural communities strengthen their economies while providing a chance to regain population. “I’m going to do all I can this year to work with Congress and secure the sort of comprehensive, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that will continue growing the rural economy. But I need the help of those across rural America to reach out, to expand partnerships and to tell the story of the modern and innovative rural America that provides so much to our nation.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor