Though it is hoped that the farm bill will be off and running long before spring rolls around this year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that it will be among a host of other top issues that the USDA hopes to address in 2014.
Immigration, coexistence plans and programs for beginning farmers are at the top of the list. Also gaining a top spot: agency budgets. One of Vilsack's concerns is the ability to fund many of the programs USDA has offered in previous years.
"There are obviously going to be challenges with reference to our budget," Vilsack said. "Despite the fact we now look to have some budget certainty over the next couple of years, we are still going to have a tight budget."
Vilsack noted, however, that according to USDA figures, more than $900 million in savings have been generated from various "efficiencies," helping to offset some concern.
Continuing with an effort started several years ago, USDA also will be turning up the heat on its coexistence plans, which are intended to "create balance," Vilsack said, in American agriculture. The plan is to foster more harmony between organic and conventional, or non-genetically modified, production systems.
A strong area of ag in 2013, Vilsack again expects exports to thrive and says they will be a 2014 priority. He notes that American crops will remain price-competitive in export markets in 2014, and livestock exports will remain strong.
"I think we are looking at a very strong export opportunity. I think there is great demand around the world for American livestock – beef, pork and poultry," Vilsack said, adding that there will be continued focus on expanding Chinese markets to beef.
As for crop exports, Vilsack added that the USDA would remain "vigilant" in helping producers retain market opportunities as crop prices have moved lower.
Along with export opportunities, Vilsack will discuss many of the agency's other priorities, as well as some key challenges for the industry at the 2014 Ag Outlook Forum next month. There, he is also slated to reveal the results of the latest ag census.
"The Outlook Forum is an opportunity for us to talk a little bit about the future of agriculture, both in the short term and in the long term," Vilsack said. "And I think it will also hopefully be in a situation to launch our ag census."
Vilsack said he hopes the forum will provide a series of panel discussions that will address all of the challenges ag faces, including many of the top priority issues for 2014 – climate, the ag workforce, capital access and the aging farm population.
"There's a whole host of things that we'll be talking about at the Outlook Forum in addition to what it looks like in the short term in terms of crop prices and farmer income," he added.
The lineup for the 90th annual forum, which takes place Feb. 20-21 in Arlington, Va., will also include comments from USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber and USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden.