Monday, April 26, 2010

The Farm Bill

Vilsack Outlines Farm Bill Priorities
Washington--Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee last week that the Obama administration will leave the writing of the 2012 farm bill up to the congressional agriculture committee.

But the Administration stressed that the bill should have a safety net for farmers and provisions to create better off-farm jobs in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

Previous administrations have suggested minimal bill proposals to Congress because the agriculture committees often ignored or shelved suggestions from the White House. "The breadth and depth of the farm bill is incredible," Vilsack said in written testimony, noting that it provides USDA not only the authority to help farmers, but "to fund rural hospitals, schools and fire stations, maintain a safe food supply and sustain export markets for commodities."

Vilsack diverted from his written testimony on the implementation of the 2008 farm bill to discuss administration philosophy on the farm bill and its role in rural America. Farm income levels "suggest the need for continuation of the safety net," he said.

Vilsack presented a slide show of charts that he said indicated the need for creation of better off-farm jobs in rural America. He said he hopes to create conditions under which farm parents and grandparents will encourage young people to stay in rural America rather than leave the farm.

House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., asked Vilsack if the administration's proposals in the fiscal year 2011 budget to cut direct payments, crop insurance and conservation programs would be an indication of its farm-bill proposals. Vilsack replied that there may be opportunities to use those resources in an efficient way, but he also pledged to handle the negotiations with crop insurance companies over their subsidy levels in a way to protect the baseline for the farm bill.

Lucas said he was afraid the Obama administration will turn rural America into "a bedroom community where people drive to work every day and drive back," but Vilsack said that is not his goal. He said that jobs in biorefineries and firms using broadband Internet service would help people stay in rural America. Lucas urged Vilsack to take his message that "turning us into a bedroom community is not in the best interest of rural America" to President Barack Obama.

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