Vilsack announces trade missions, delays climate deadlines, maintains CRP deadline
NEW ORLEANS — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said here on March 11 that the Agriculture Department will sponsor four trade missions this year and that he has delayed the deadlines for Climate Smart Partnerships program, but will maintain the Tuesday deadline for sign up for the Conservation Reserve Program.
Vilsack announced the trade missions in a speech to the Commodity Classic, the annual gathering of wheat, corn, soybean and sorghum producers. He stressed that the Biden administration wants to move rural America from an “extraction” economy in which commodities and natural resources are taken elsewhere for value to be added to a “circular” economy in which manufacturing takes place closer to the origin of the raw materials.
Without using President Trump’s name, Vilsack said that before “the trade war” with China, 25% of that country’s agricultural imports came from the United States, but that today only 18% of China’s imports come from the U.S. Just as China has diversified its sources of agricultural imports, the United States must diversify its export markets, he said.
Noting the success of a trade mission to Dubai, USDA’s first since the COVID-19 pandemic, Vilsack said there will be a trade mission to the United Kingdom in June, the Philippines and Southeast Asia in July, Kenya in October and Spain in November.
The key is “presence, people and promotions,” Vilsack said.
Asked at a news conference about the Biden administration’s failure to nominate an agriculture undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, Vilsack repeated previous statements that two candidates have found the White House demand that they sell assets too onerous and that he is “frustrated” by the tough ethics position put in place in reaction to problems in the last administration.
But he also said that “There are a whole heck of a lot of people at USDA making these trade missions successful.” He also noted that agricultural exports totaled a record $177 billion last year and are set to rise higher this year despite the absence of an undersecretary.
Vilsack also announced that there has been so much interest in the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program that the deadline for projects in the $5 million to $100 million range has been extended from April 8 to May 6, and that the deadline for the projects in the $250,000 to $4.9 million range has been extended from May 26 to June 10.
In addition to projects to expand meat processing capacity and in response to rising fertilizer costs and other problems in that industry USDA plans to launch an effort to encourage “independent” fertilizer production. The $250 million that will go into that effort will not be available to current producers, Vilsack said. The intent is to tie fertilizer and sustainability together, he added. Applications should be available this summer.
Asked by The Hagstrom Report about the letter Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote him suggesting that he delay the signup for the Conservation Reserve Program beyond the Tuesday deadline so that farmers could think twice about whether they want to idle land or use it for production, Vilsack said the deadline would remain in place because contracts can be broken. USDA has also allowed CRP land to be used for haying and grazing when there have been shortages, he noted.
When Vilsack told the audience that “you and I know” that E15 and E20 ethanol blends could solve many of the nation’s gasoline problems, he received a round of applause.
Asked by a reporter whether the rest of the administration shares his faith in E15 and E20, Vilsack said he could not speak for other agencies but that USDA has put $100 million into making E15 available.
At the end of his speech Vilsack urged the farmers to tell nonfarmers about their productivity and the sustainability of their operations. He also asked “God to bless freedom-loving people.” He received a standing ovation from a crowd that is probably largely Republican.
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