Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited with Farm Progress editor Jason Vance about a wide array of issues important in rural America including the farm bill, exports and trade, the 2012 Agricultural Forum, biobased products and job creation.
On Tuesday a directive from the President was released that called for increasing the use by federal agencies of biobased products. Roughly 3,100 companies across the country that produce biobased products employing nearly 100,000 people and providing a new market opportunity for farmers in terms of agricultural production and waste products from those systems.
"The Federal Government is a big purchaser of those kinds of items and what the President has directed USDA to do is increase the number of items that the Federal Government can consider in its purchasing, hopefully doubling that number in a relatively short period of time," Vilsack said. "Today we have a catalog of roughly 9,000 products; he'd like to see about 18,000 products listed. The theory behind this is that we use our purchasing power to stimulate this industry so more companies get developed, companies that exist expand, more jobs get created and most of those jobs are likely to be in rural areas."
Ag Outlook Forum
The 2012 Agricultural Forum: Visions for the Future is being held this week in Virginia. Vilsack says that it is a celebration of 150 years of USDA. The department was formed in the middle of the Civil War, and Vilsack says even during that bleak time there was still the vision to look forward. He says that is important today to look to the future.
"We want to make sure that folks know we are dedicated to continued commitment of exports and understand the responsibility to expand domestic markets as well," Vilsack said.
He also says it's important to let people know about the commitment to conservation, stretching those dollars during fiscally difficult times and making sure that they know of the commitment to the overall safety net for producers.
South Korea Free Trade Agreement
It was announced this week that the free trade agreement with South Korea would be implemented on March 15, 2012. Vilsack says that the South Korea agreement was the big one for agriculture of the three agreements signed into law last year.
"We believe that there is probably nearly $2 billion of economic opportunity from expanded trade," Vilsack said. "As tariffs are reduced or eliminated on a wide variety of agricultural product; virtually every sector of agriculture is going to be positively impacted by this trade agreement.
2012 Farm Bill
The writing of the next farm bill is the issue that is dominating the focus of rural America. Vilsack says that everyone with an interest in the farm bill realizes that sooner is better than later and that this will be a difficult farm bill to put together because there is a new factor impacting it in addition to all the traditional hurdles.
"We have fiscal constraints that we've not dealt with before," Vilsack said. "I think it will be key to figure out precisely what those fiscal boundaries will be."
To listen to the complete conversation with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack use the audio player on this page.