Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture on Tuesday, discussing reforms of USDA proposed by the Administration and outlining how the President's budget can revitalize rural America.
"The President's budget reflects a new direction for our country," said Vilsack. "This budget will set us on the path to recovery by providing a strong foundation and diverse opportunities for farmers and ranchers to succeed."
When asked at a teleconference following the hearing how the committee had received the President's budget plan, Vilsack said there was common ground.
"Based on the questions that were directed to me I believe there is an appreciation for the President's priorities," Vilsack said. "Which is to improve the nutritional value of meals, particularly in the school nutrition programs and that there is a real desire to make sure that we continue to expand access to those programs to reach the goal of eliminating childhood hunger by 2015. I think there was a consensus, at least one that I drew, that we need to continue to focus as we have with the stimulus Recovery and Reinvestment Act on building modern infrastructure and a strong rural community to surround our farmers and ranchers. And I think there was a consensus that we need to continue to promote renewable energy and biofuels for rural American, and for that matter all of America."
Vilsack emphasized that one of his top priorities was to rebuild and revitalize rural communities. He said the budget puts a strong emphasis on rural economic development, providing more than $20 billion in loans, loan guarantees, and grants to support rural development activities.
During his testimony, Vilsack also made announcements of action USDA is taking to strengthen the farm safety net to help producers who are struggling with the recent economic downturn. The Average Crop Revenue Election program sign-up deadline is being extended from June 1 to Aug. 14 to give producers more time to make informed decisions about sign-up options. Also this week, USDA will begin making Milk Income Loss Contract program payments.
"USDA is making bonus commodity purchases to aid struggling parts of the farm sector through USDA Section 32 authority," Vilsack said. "These purchases are in the amounts of $30 million for walnuts, $25 million for pork, $60 million for turkey, and $2 million for lamb."