Biden, Vilsack speak to Farm Bureau in Atlanta
ATLANTA — President Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday sought to reassure members of the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation that the administration has their back.
In a short video, Biden told the Farm Bureau members gathered for the annual convention here that he tells people who needs plumbers and other workers that they “need a farmer three times a day.”
Biden also said that farmers deserve affordable seeds and other inputs and the right to repair their equipment themselves, and that the administration is spending $1 billion to increase meat processing capacity, which has been a sensitive subject since meat workers came down with COVID-19 in 2020 and meat plants had to reduce operations, which led to declines in cattle prices.
Biden also noted the port and road provisions in what he called “my infrastructure law” — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed with some Republican votes — will help improve transportation capacity for ag products while the broadband provisions will improve the lives of people in rural America.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who was introduced by Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, started off by pointing out that he is a member of the Iowa Farm Bureau and said “I have paid my dues.” (Vilsack is also a member of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union and usually speaks at their conventions also.)
Farmers have been concerned that the Biden administration has not been pushing new trade agreements to increase ag exports, but Vilsack noted that exports have grown while challenges remain.
Support for trade among Americans needs to be rebuilt, Vilsack said, adding “We are going to enforce the agreements that we have. That is the first step in rebuilding trust.”
Exports to China have grown, but the Chinese are “$16 billion light” under their commitment to make purchases, he said.
Vilsack also said he was pleased by a U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade panel that concluded Mexico was not living up to the dairy provisions.
Biden also announced a new partnership between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farmers For Soil Health, an initiative of the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association and National Pork Board. Farmers For Soil Health works to advance use of soil health practices — especially cover crops — on corn and soybean farms.
The initiative has a goal of doubling the number of corn and soybean acres using cover crops to 30 million acres by 2030.
Updates include nationwide availability of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Conservation Incentive Contracts option, a new and streamlined EQIP Cover Crop Initiative, and added flexibilities for producers to easily re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“Climate change is happening, and America’s agricultural communities are on the front lines,” NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said in a news release.
“We have to continue to support and expand the adoption of conservation approaches to support producers in their work to address the climate crisis and build more resilient operations. We are continuously working to improve our programs to ensure we’re giving farmers and ranchers the best tools to conserve natural resources.”
To complement the new partnership, NRCS is investing $38 million through the new targeted Cover Crop Initiative in 11 states to help agricultural producers mitigate climate change through the widespread adoption of cover crops.
States include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and South Dakota. States were selected for this initial pilot based on their demonstrated demand for additional support for the cover crop practice.
Sign-up dates will be determined at the state-level, and applications will be selected for funding by Feb. 11.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a news release, “I’m encouraged that the USDA is streamlining these programs and expanding opportunities for climate-smart agriculture. I look forward to making further improvements in the next farm bill.”
American Farmland Trust Climate Policy Manager Samantha Levy said, “This program not only answers our call, but those of many conservation groups across the country.”
Vilsack also addressed issues over which the administration has conflicts with Farm Bureau.
Farm Bureau has been concerned that the Biden administration’s plans to use budget authority under the Commodity Credit Corporation, a line of credit at the Treasury to distribute farm subsidies, to address climate issues may mean that there will not be enough money for traditional programs. But Biden said the pilot projects “are not going to come at the expense of anything we need to do to ensure performance and implementation of Title I” of the farm bill.
“And secondly, they are not going to be used at all — in any way, shape or form — for the establishment of carbon markets,” Biden said.
The role of USDA in carbon markets, he said, is to make sure that farmers can certify the climate-smart practices in which they are engaged to take advantage of market opportunities to increase their incomes.
At a news conference, Vilsack also acknowledged that the state Farm Bureau presidents he met with before his speech had asked him about the Environmental Protection Agency’s and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed rewrite of the Waters of the United States rule.
Farm Bureau had praised the Trump-era rule, but the Biden administration has withdrawn it.
Vilsack said USDA’s role in the Waters of the United States process is to encourage EPA to “lean in and listen” to farmers, to weigh in on the decision that EPA will reach, and once the decision is made to make sure the regulations are easy for farmers to comply with as possible.
Vilsack also told reporters that he has the relationship he needs with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as EPA to achieve those goals.
“We all share the goal of clean water,” he told reporters.
Vilsack also addressed other issues such as supply chains the producer concerns about the cattle markets, which he has addressed in other venues.
Vilsack, who served for eight years as Agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, said he had come back to the job in the Biden administration because “I love the people I work with and the people I work for. It is not hard to understand why somebody who started out life in an orphanage wouldn’t come back to this great department.”
After Vilsack’s speech, Duvall reassured the membership that he has close ties with Vilsack and can work with him.
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