USDA's Vilsack: 'We Need Production Agriculture'

April 15, 2009 07:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Ag chief also talks greenhouse gasses, ethanol and trade.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack signals market access a key for production agriculture. While the U.S. needs small- and medium-sized farmers, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Informa Annual Food & Agriculture Policy Conference that the U.S. also "needs" those that are labeled as "production agriculture" -- it's "important to have all three."

Based on Census of Agriculture data, Vilsack revealed around 5 percent of farmers currently produce 75 percent of U.S. agricultural output. "We have to do it all," Vilsack stated. He indicated it would be important to help those considered small farmers to expand their opportunities to market what they produce. As for the medium-sized farmers that have several hundred acres, the ag chief indicated they need to be provided new "income opportunities," and expressed a hope that would involve becoming more diversified.

As for the largest farmers, Vilsack said it was key to make sure those producers who do provide most of the output have access to international markets. "We have to break down barriers," he stressed. Production agriculture "is with us now, and is going to be with us," Vilsack stated.

Regarding the issue of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, Vilsack stressed that agriculture will have a seat at the table. While agriculture is estimated to be "7 percent of the problem (relative to greenhouse gasses), agriculture could be 25 percent of the solution," he stated. But he said some believe it holds a "significant economic opportunity" for U.S. agriculture. Vilsack also went through a lengthy list of the issues and areas USDA has focused on in the initial stages of the Obama administration, including the economic stimulus package and more.

On ethanol, Vilsack reiterated his support for EPA to increase the ethanol blend percentage. He said EPA has or will soon come out seeking public comment on increasing the blend percentage from 11 percent to 12 percent to 15 percent. Also, Vilsack said USDA has taken steps to help ensure the viability of the industry under the current economic climate. Vilsack said one of the issues that will have to be addressed is also related to what other countries are doing in terms of land use relative to U.S. actions on biofuels. He also said there needs to be an acceleration of the alternative feedstocks for biofuels.

On food safety, Vilsack outlined what he sees as a distinct difference between FDA and USDA -- USDA focuses on preventing food safety problems before they occur while FDA tries to mitigate the impacts after the discovery of food safety problems. "We need to merge those lines of thinking," Vilsack noted.

Beef trade will be an area of focus for Vilsack at the upcoming G-8 meeting in Italy. "We obviously have work to do in terms of convincing our trading partners that we have the highest quality and best prices for livestock," Vilsack said. Vilsack will be participating in the Group of Eight Agricultural Ministerial in Italy beginning on Saturday in discussions that are expected to focus on global food security.

Vilsack will discuss beef trade along with other agricultural issues during his meetings with foreign officials, he noted. "I hope to have at least a brief conversation (with Japan's agriculture minister) about how we can reassure the Japanese market that we have quality beef that should be available to their consumers," said Vilsack. Japan accepts beef from cattle 20 months old or younger, while South Korea limits imports to under 30 months of age.

Comments: The remarks Vilsack made the at the Informa meeting relative to production agriculture should make those "large" farmers who have been seemingly a target by the Obama administration with some of their budget proposals feel a little less targeted.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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