Change is in the wind
At USDA's Ag Outlook conference Thursday, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack counted off the agency's top priorities. It is clear that existing programs will be scrutinized for both their fit with the new thrust and efficiency. We are entering a new era at USDA.
This administration's priorities include:
- Green energy and biofuels (especially next-generation)
- Food safety (in the wake of the peanut scandal)
- Economic challenges ($28 billion of the stimulus package came to USDA "to put to work in the economy as soon as possible”
- Addressing trends in the recently released Ag Census
- Climate change (reduce ag's carbon footprint; it is 20% of the problem or the solution)
Trends in the Ag Census that have caught USDA's attention:
- Dramatic growth in the number of really small income farms—108,000 were formed or found in the five years since the past Census. "This is good news,” said Ag Secretary Tom Visack.
- There are 41,000 more farms with more than $500,000 in sales. The top 125,000 of farmers produce 75% of ag output.
- There are 800,000 fewer middle-income farms –between $10,000 and $200,000—than there were five years ago.
- Of 2.2 million operators, 900,000 "have to work off the farm at least 200 days,” according to Vilsack.
- Farm operators are aging, with the average now 57 vs. 55 five years ago. More alarming is the 30% increase in those over 75 years old and 20% decline in those under 25.
"Our goal is to help small farms grow to mid-size,” says Visack. Expect this administration to look to support higher-value crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. Young and beginning farmers also will come front and center. – Linda H. Smith from the Ag Outlook Conference