Agriculture Sec. Vilsack touts rural development, biofuels & safety net

By Agri-Pulse Staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, May 13 – In a wide-ranging AgriTalk interview with Mike Adams Thursday, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack chuckled over Republican charges that he’s favoring hobby farmers over production agriculture (see Commenting on USDA’s “Know Your Farmer” program, Vilsack pointed out that in the 2008 Farm Bill, it was Congress which “directed 5% of our resources to local production and local consumption efforts. But at the same time, we’re also focused on production agriculture in Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

Turning to the 2012 Farm Bill that’s the subject of an ongoing series of House Agriculture Committee hearings, Vilsack called for a greater focus on regional development and explained that he’s committed to working with House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) to reconsider safety net provisions in the next Farm Bill and “how the payment structures can be set up to really provide more assurance that in the event of a bad year, that production costs are going to be covered.”

As negotiations continue between USDA and the insurance industry over the federal Crop Insurance program, Vilsack said that “Congress directed us to renegotiate the underlying agreement for the Crop Insurance program and we are following that congressional mandate.” He pointed out that “the insurance companies are making a substantial profit. Last year, it was 25% return on their money.” He said to be fairer to taxpayers, “what we’re proposing is a process that would probably bring those profits down from 25% to 14%, still a fairly significant return on the investment.” He added that USDA is also proposing a per-policy flat rate for agents “that would still let them earn about $1,000 a policy,” rather than commissions going up along with crop prices.

Vilsack called the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill announced Wednesday “a step in the right direction” which “creates new opportunities for rural America.” He said it will be important to include strong agricultural offset provisions in the final bill and strong support for the biofuels industry, commenting that “if we are going to reverse the trends in rural America, where we’ve seen higher poverty rates and unemployment rates, we’re going to have to focus on energy and fuel production.”

Reacting to a presentation by the Humane Society (HSUS) at the National 4H Conference, Vilsack promises that in the future, “4H national headquarters will screen all handout materials to be brought to conferences by workshop presenters to make sure that they’re relevant to the conference theme and to the young people who are attending” and that  “workshop proposals will undergo a review by a panel of USDA National Institute of Food & Agriculture national program leaders.”

To hear AgriTalk’s interview with Sec. Vilsack, go to:

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