Vilsack to U.S. Farmers: Develop Other Sources of Income Than Direct Payments

February 9, 2009 06:00 PM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Another signal that new Ag Secretary is an activist, a loose cannon, or both

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An increasingly activist USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of the National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates that farmers will have to accept reality that U.S. farm program direct payments are under fire both at home and abroad and they should develop other sources of income, including windmills, biofuels and organic agriculture.

Vilsack last week signaled his support for a single food agency, a policy stance not taken by any USDA Secretary in recent memory. Former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman told me the following when this topic surfaced during the Clinton administration, "If it's just moving chairs around, it's not worth it. But anything should be looked at."

Vilsack said economic developments and other issues will force major changes in the way he will run USDA, and in the ways farmers will get paid, another reference to the apparent coming assault on direct payments.

Comments: Vilsack's comments on sensitive policy issues are somewhat surprising because they come before any major sub-Cabinet personnel in USDA have been announced and confirmed. But to date, it appears we have an Ag Secretary unlike most others in decades. It will be very interesting to see if the White House chooses activists for some of the key USDA positions under Vilsack. If so, get ready for significant changes in farm and food policy.

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