WASHINGTON, Feb 5, 2014--As the Senate passed the farm bill Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to state agriculture department leaders at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Winter Policy Conference.

He assured them that USDA is prepared to implement the farm bill as soon as President Barack Obama signs the legislation, but cautioned that it would be no small task.

“There’s an enormous number of new programs, regulations, and regulations that have to be modified,” he noted. The USDA team is split into working groups each assigned a title of the farm bill to identify program and policy changes, he explained.

Vilsack said the new dairy program in the farm bill “is not going to be easy to implement,” and USDA must formalize the “brand new concept” by the end of the year.

He noted that the Risk Management Agency would work with the Farm Service Agency to deliver the dairy program, considering that it is more of an insurance-based product than the previous program.

Overall, he said the compromise on dairy would provide an opportunity to reduce consolidation in the industry by helping small- and medium-sized dairy producers stay in business.

Vilsack specifically praised the farm bill for its reformed farm safety net, additional agricultural research funding, authorization of livestock disaster assistance and the restoration of trade promotion programs.

However, he further pushed for Congress to find compromise on immigration reform that also addresses the needs of farms employing immigrant labor. 

“At the start of the year, I said we needed three things from Congress: A budget…a farm bill…and immigration reform,” he said, noting that the first two are now accomplished.

“If we can get that final piece, agriculture and rural America is in a position to move forward,” he said.


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