Rural America is experiencing an “extraction economy,” according to Secretary Vilsack

USDA is focusing on developing a circular economy where wealth is created and stays in rural areas, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who told the House Agriculture Committee that farm income is “as good as it has been in the last eight years.”

He also shared his commitment to support biofuels and bio-based manufacturing.

The Department of Agriculture is providing $700 million in assistance to the biofuel industry to encourage it through the pandemic situation and $100 billion to expand higher blends so I can make the case that the administration is supporting the industry along with the 65 waivers that were denied by the EPA that might have well been granted during the previous administration.”

Vilsack fielded numerous questions on supply chain disruptions and high fertilizer costs to which he cited an Iowa state study that found potentially 30% of Iowa corn acres probably don’t need as much or any fertilizer.

“I think encouraging additional precision agriculture so that our inputs are wisely done and finally figuring out ways to compensate farmers if they decide to apply less, we have a split nitrogen program now so that there is crop insurance that can protect you against that reduction.”

He also addressed goals to balance farmer profit, worker safety, and processing productivity with ongoing negotiations over line speeds.

“I think there is a way forward we found this in a pilot program in the pork industry where we are encouraging folks to look at worker safety and also line speed and I think there is a way to find a common ground here.”

5 of the 9 pork processors they are working with have requested a line speed waiver and USDA has asked courts to remand poultry line speed litigation back to USDA so they can create a waiver for them too.

He says they are also addressing workforce shortages with a new rule to improve employment and training under the snap program.

“It’s states responsibility to take the resources we are providing them millions of dollars, in many cases states don’t spend those resources. They know who the snap beneficiaries are and they know what the workforce needs are so this new rule requires them to marry the two so that they can create opportunities for folks to be gainfully employed.”

Trade was another priority during the hearing and Secretary Vilsack told multiple lawmakers that negotiations are ongoing with China and that provisions under the phase one deal will need to be met, including the $16b short on purchases and 7 major regulatory changes that have not been made.

Vilsack also discussed plans to use the commodity credit corporation to fund climate smart pilot projects on farms which he says will not interfere with the CCC’s other programs.


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