Vilsack talks drought, farm bill in Omaha
October 9th, 2012
Omaha, NE – The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was in Omaha today. Tom Vilsack called on Congress to renew the stalled farm bill, while he met with officials to discuss the impact of a lingering drought in the Midwest.
Flanked by officials from South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, Tom Vilsack told reporters at a morning press conference that his department is here to â€œlearn and listen.â€ Vilsack was in Omaha for the first of a series of regional meetings intended to gauge the needs of communities and farmers impacted by one of the most severe droughts in recent history.
Vilsack said the drought has a â€œrippling effectâ€ on industries like tourism and others dependent on agriculture. â€œAgriculture is responsible for one out of every 12 jobs in the economy,â€ Vilsack said. â€œSo if producers have less to produce then that means less will be packaged and processed and trucked and shipped, how does that impact and affect those businesses, those employees, the workload? And what does that do to communities that are reliant on a prosperous economy?â€
Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture may be able to help communities with low-cost loans and grants as well as through technical assistance and by easing regulations. But he said the departmentâ€™s ability to help is restricted by a farm bill thatâ€™s been stalled in Congress for months. â€œHow do you as a producer in the midst of drought, potentially a multi-year drought, how do you go to your banker and basically convince them to provide you the credit to put a crop in the ground?â€ he said, â€œor to continue your operation if you donâ€™t know what the safety net is going to be?â€
“You canâ€™t tell the banker that because you donâ€™t know,â€ he continued. â€œThat creates I think a little angst on the part of the banker and reluctance for some operators to get the credit they need.â€
Vilsack said the livestock industry has been particularly hard hit and added heâ€™s â€œdeeply concernedâ€ about the dairy industry, which relies on an insurance program (MILC) that expired October 1st and has yet to be renewed. But Vilsack also said thereâ€™s reason to be optimistic. He said food prices will likely not go up as much as initially feared because yields are higher than expected. â€œIronically, right now weâ€™re faced in some cases with potential surpluses,â€ he said, â€œbecause thereâ€™s been liquidation thatâ€™s taken place on an accelerated basis.â€
â€œSo consumers may get the benefit of that in the short-term,â€ he added. â€œIn the long-term, when there are shortages, obviously consumers will be impacted. But the impact of that on food inflation, if you will, is not as significant as you might think.â€
Vilsack said farmers have embraced new drought-resistant technology and conservation methods which have made them more resilient. He was joined by professors from the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension Program, and he gave a nod to their work, saying continued investment in agriculture research is critical to weathering future natural disasters. Vilsack heads next to Colorado and will continue on to Arkansas and, finally, Ohio.
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