April 16, 2012
It's the Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made that perfectly clear in an address to the North American Agricultural Journalists annual convention in Washington, D.C. today (Monday, April 16).
Vilsack insisted any "Farm Bill" questions be rephrased to his preferred wording during the course of a lively exchange with farm journalists at the conference.
PULLING NO PUNCHES: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says it's more than a 'farm bill.'
Vilsack mentioned the 150th Anniversary of USDA as well as the 60th anniversary of NAAJ in pointing out history lessons of American progress in tough times. USDA was established, he pointed out, in the midst of the Civil War in 1862, along with the Land Grant University Act and the Homestead Act and the effort to build the Intercontinental Railroad system. All of those efforts, he said, reflect how America has always looked to build the future no matter the challenges of the present.
"Rural America has a great opportunity to look forward in today's challenging times," he said, "The Food, Farm and Jobs Bill will be about the food we eat, the food we trade, the bio-economy, research and development, and about local land regional food systems."
He said it is anybody's guess when that legislation will actually pass, but pointed to the efforts by Sen. Ag Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to lead a bi-partisan effort to write a bill that will pass this summer in plenty of time to let the House debate, amend and pass a bill before the Sept. 30 deadline.
What he expects to see in the finished bill, he said are:
A conservation title that provides fewer programs but more flexibility to tailor to individuals a landscape approach to large watershed efforts;
A measure that provides some relief to livestock producers who face losses from flood, fire and other natural disasters;
A strong crop insurance provision that also includes some kind of supplemental help to protect against losses beyond what insurance will cover;
Unique help to beginning farmers;
Food assistance programs.
Vilsack said many farmers don't understand that food assistance programs such as school breakfasts and lunches and food stamps put money farmers' pockets.
The Supplemental Nutrition allows money to be spent in grocery stores that would otherwise not be spent, he said, and 16 cents of every dollar spent in the supermarket returns to the pockets of farmers.
He challenged journalists in the room to double down on their efforts to tell the story of the importance of agriculture to society.
"Agriculture is under-appreciated for the role it plays in the food security of this country," he said. "People need to know that 85% of the food we eat is produced in this country. Because of that, U.S. consumers have more of their paychecks to spend on other things."
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