"It's a brand new day at USDA,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told attendees at the American Agricultural Law Association annual meeting Sept. 25. He was referring to this administration's thrust to support and grow rural communities. For farmers, the bottom line is a new focus on "value added, local, natural,” etc. and less emphasis on field crops and traditional commodity programs.
The administration's cornerstones for rural development are broadband for rural communities, continued development of a next-generation ethanol industry, farm-grown energy, and encouraging local connections with consumers and institutions.
Asked about USDA support for ag research, he replied: "Ag research is important but its impact on rural areas is indirect.” USDA's new National Institute of Food and Agriculture, headed by plant breeder Roger Beachy, will encourage research projects that will have an impact on rural America, he says. In addition, more of the funds will be distributed through competitive grants that "leverage” their impact, and less through earmarked projects at land grant universities.
–Linda H. Smith