As time ran out on the 2008 Farm Bill, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack expressed his displeasure at Congress's failure to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Speaking Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, at the Rally for Iowa's Outdoor Legacy Conference, Vilsack noted House leaders said "they didn't have time" to pass a bill. Vilsack retorted, "They did have time."
In a formal statement released earlier, Vilsack noted: "In a year that has brought its share of challenges to America's farmers and ranchers, the House Republicans have added new uncertainty for rural America. Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed.
"Americans deserve a food, farm and jobs bill that reforms the safety net for producers in times of need, promotes the bio-based economy, conserves our natural resources, strengthens rural communities, promotes job growth in rural America, and supports food assistance to low-income families. Without the certainty of a multi-year bill, rural communities are being asked to shoulder undue burdens."
As a result, Vilsack noted he will send an email to USDA staff asking them to not spend money and detailing which programs are no longer funded. He said some programs will still be OK because of money left in the budget. "We will be able to operate month-to-month for a while."
He said he wants USDA staff to recognize the uncertainty of the new fiscal year. "Nobody knows what cuts we will face down the road. On top of that we are administering programs that are frozen."
Role of conservation
Vilsack believes the conservation title of the new farm bill should be a priority. "The bill the Senate passed has a strong conservation program. The version that came out of the House Ag Committee was strong on conservation. "But when it got on the House floor, nothing happened."
Vilsack believes conservation and outdoor recreation is equally as important as production agriculture. "The ability of agriculture to be productive is dependent on the health of the soil and water quality.
"It's also a health issue," he noted. "Those who are active outdoors are healthier, which can help reduce health care costs."
He said it's important for folks to recognize the economic value of conservation. He challenged Pheasants Forever members in the audience: "It's your job to make sure people realize the importance of conservation. You have a great argument – it's great to be able to get out and hunt. But you also have to explain the economic value of what you do."
The USDA secretary also announced another 400,000 acres will be open for enrollment in the targeted State Acres for wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) part of the Conservation Reserve Program.