USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer’ program riles John McCain, Saxby Chambliss & Pat Roberts

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, April 29 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan are hard at work sending the American public to to learn that food comes from real farmers, not from the grocery or convenience store. But the campaign has come under fire from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and House Agriculture Committee Member Pat Roberts (R-KS).

A sharply worded letter to Sec. Vilsack from the three Republicans this week charges that “While the concept of educating consumers about production agriculture is a worthwhile endeavor, we have serious misgivings about the direction of the Know Your Farmers program.” The letter states that along with trying to link consumers to farmers, the initiative “also involves subsidizing the so-called locavore niche market.” The letter says that after spending $65 million this year, USDA “has pledged to deliver millions more in Fiscal Year 2011” on the program.

Among the letter’s other charges:

  • “Unfortunately, this spending doesn’t appear geared toward conventional farmers who produce the vast majority of our nation’s food supply, but is instead aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”
  • “In the name of promoting local food systems, the Department appears to be prioritizing Rural Development grant and loan programs for locavore projects in urban areas, apparently at the expense of rural communities with documented rural development needs.”
  • “American families and rural farmers are hurting in today’s economy, and it’s unclear to us how propping up the urban locavore markets addresses their needs. Given our nation’s crippling budgetary crisis, we also believe the federal government cannot afford to spend precious Rural Development funds on feel-good measures which are completely detached from the realities of production agriculture.”

The letter goes on to request that USDA provide proof of congressional authority to spend money for Know Your Farmer purposes along with a full accounting of all spending.

To read the McCain/Chambliss/Roberts letter, go to:

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