U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he feels like the kid on the school playground who always gets picked on.
"I'm just asking for equity," he told the North American Agricultural Journalists during a lunch speech at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. on Monday. "I realize that other departments need resources, too. I realize that sequester is bad policy. All I'm asking for is a little equity. Why is Ag the only department getting cut again and again?"
The secretary said that the House budget reflects a trend to reduce the ag budget in small amounts year after year.
"We have made those reductions every year for six years and there comes a point where you begin to have a real strain on people," he said. There were 105,000 people working for USDA six years ago and only about 85,000 now, he said.
"Congress can't continue to cut and still expect us to deliver the level of service that people in the countryside expect of us," he said.
USDA business goes on
Vilsack told the group, which is convening for its annual meeting in Washington, that he is releasing funds appropriated to help rural schools fund public education and to communities that may be faced with higher costs of fighting wildfires this summer as drought continues or deepens.
He also said he spoke on Monday with the trade minister of China about a dialogue to take place late in the summer or early fall on trade issues including response to outbreaks of Avian Influenza in the western and central U.S.
He said his goal is to get China to back off from a total ban on U.S. poultry and poultry products because of the outbreaks of Avian Influenza that have hit along the western and central flyways and are believed to have come from infections in the migratory bird population.
"Why should there be a ban on products from the east coast, on birds from Virginia or North Carolina, when there has been no infection in those states?" he asked.
Vilsack said one goal of his talks with the Chinese president and trade ministers will be to show them that the U.S. has surveillance and biosecurity measures in place to quickly identify any outbreaks and address them immediately.
"Education of poultry producers is key," he said. "We need to work with industry to assure that our bio-controls are as good as they can possibly be and that producers understand the rules of indemnification to reduce their losses as much as possible."
On 2014 Farm Bill implementation, Vilsack said he thinks the team at USDA has, on balance, done a good job if implementation and that the department is ahead of predictions on signups. He also said the department is pleased at the level of participation in the dairy margin protection program.
He also said that he thinks conservation and water quality programs implemented through Natural Resources Conservation Service are working.
"Soil erosion is down by millions of tons," he said. "That's billions of pounds of nitrogen and millions of pounds of phosphorus that are not entering streams and waterways. "
Vilsack it is important to realize that all conservation programs take time to work.
"We have the notion that if you take action today, you should see results tomorrow," he said. "It doesn't work that way."