Agriculture Secretary Pushes 2012 Farm Bill Priorities, Including Energy Programs

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are scrambling to complete a bipartisan deficit reduction plan by November 1 for Farm Bill nutrition and agriculture programs. This would set the priorities and spending limits for the Farm Bill which is to be reauthorized in 2012. They have proposed an overall reduction of $23 billion over the next ten years. In a speech in Iowa, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored what is at stake.

Secretary Vilsack addressed a crowd at the John Deere Des Moines Works on October 24 observing that the 2012 Farm Bill "is really about keeping pace with the changing needs of agriculture and the challenges which face rural America. It's about providing an adequate food supply for our nation and the world. And the choices that these lawmakers will make will help shape agricultural, food, and rural development policy and will help determine what our farms and our rural communities look like. It's also going to determine where our energy supply comes from and if we all eat. So we need to think bigger than the words "Farm Bill" suggest. After all, for decades this bill has been about a whole lot more than just farming. It's been about energy, it's been about nutrition, it's been about jobs.”

As EESI reported last week, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees submitted a bipartisan recommendation to the Joint Select Committee for Deficit Reduction (aka “Supercommittee”) to cut spending for agriculture and nutrition programs by $23 billion over the next ten years, and they promised to provide the Select Committee with further details of recommended cuts by November 1.

Secretary Vilsack observed that “though these numbers are by no means final, it is a reminder to all of us that if we want this legislation to accomplish a lot, we have to understand that there will be considerably less funding in which to do it. So our priorities must be clear. We simply need to do more with less.”

Secretary Vilsack called on Congress “to continue their commitment to improve conservation programs, to maintain a robust investment in voluntary conservation assistance and to encourage our efforts towards regulatory certainty tied to conservation.”

With regard to farm energy programs, he said, “[T]his is the type of effort that needs to be continued. That's why I'm hoping that Congress, as it looks at the Farm Bill, understands and appreciates the significance of the BCAP [Biomass Crop Assistance Program] program and the REAP [Rural Energy for America Program], two programs that are continued -- worthy of continued investment. Just in 2009 and 2010 USDA invested in more than 22,000 renewable energy projects. We're pursuing this next generation of advanced biofuels by helping communities and companies invest to build those biorefineries, we're funding regional research, and we're helping farmers to establish those biofuel crops. We're supporting the farmers, ranchers, and businesses taking risks to pursue those new opportunities, and we're helping to establish the infrastructure to put renewable fuel in all of America's gas tanks. Congress's effort has got to continue to offer strategic support to these important industries.”