Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Tuesday. Secretary Vilsack outlined the Administration's plans to bring reform to USDA and discussed how the President's budget will 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."
The following are excerpts from Secretary Vilsack's remarks, as prepared for delivery:
Recent Announcement for Producers
"Today, I would like to make three announcements in the area of the farm safety net that should help producers struggling with the recent downturn in commodity prices. First, in the dairy sector, in addition to last week's announcement of USDA's utilization of 200 million pounds of non-fat dry milk for school feeding programs and the TEFAP program, I would also like to announce that this week USDA will be making Milk Income Loss Contract payments (MILC).
"Secondly, I am announcing today that USDA is making bonus commodity purchases to aid struggling parts of the farm sector through USDA Section 32 authority. These purchases are in the amounts of $30 million for walnuts, $25 million for pork, $60 million for turkey, and $2 million for lamb.
"Lastly, in response to concerns I have heard from producers worried about the upcoming June deadline for farm program sign-up, I am announcing today that USDA will be extending the sign-up deadline to August 14. This action should provide producers with sufficient time to learn about the new ACRE Program and to make informed decisions about their sign-up options."
"It is one of my top priorities to work to rebuild and revitalize rural communities in this country. Starting with the implementation of ARRA and continuing through implementation of the Farm Bill, USDA will expand broadband networks in rural communities, increase investment in rural infrastructure, and develop renewable energy. 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. Of great importance to me, this budget proposal is consistent with the Administration's efforts to ensure that all of rural America will have access to quality broadband service, which is essential to keeping pace in a world that relies on rapid telecommunications."
"We are committed to modernizing the food system, focusing on preventing rather than mitigating the consequences of food-borne illness. Food-borne illness affects everyone from the consumer back down to the producer and taxes our health care system far more than it should. Our budget proposal for 2010 includes additional resources to improve food safety inspection and assessment and to enhance the ability to determine food safety risks. I am also proud to be a part of the Food Safety Working Group and look forward to meeting with you on ideas to improve the food safety system."
"USDA also has an important role in working hard to expand exports of our agricultural products. It is significant that, while the country as a whole has a trade deficit, agriculture has a trade surplus. USDA estimates that the trade surplus for agricultural products will be $13 billion in FY 2009. The Foreign Agricultural Service does a tremendous job and we need to continue to work hard both in Washington and in our offices overseas, to encourage greater exports of American products. That requires us to focus on overseas market signals and adapt our practices and procedures to the demands of customers around the world. We must also continue our efforts to break down trade barriers that limit our capacity to export, such as the imposition of sanitary and phytosanitary barriers that are not in accord with international standards or science-based."
"President Obama is very clear that this budget will be transparent to the American people. It will account fully for the costs to operate the government. As I described earlier, our budget meets this test. As the President stressed in his Address to Congress, we're reviewing all of our operations for wasteful and inefficient spending. One of my first actions was to ask each acting member of the sub-cabinet and in turn each staff person at the Department of Agriculture, to seek out, execute and report on "savings" each week. We have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by eliminating unnecessary travel and conferences, increasing administrative efficiency, and terminating contracts that are no longer needed. The savings generated by these actions are being put to better use on higher priority activities. The 2010 budget also reflects the elimination of earmarks and funding for programs that are not as high a priority or provide services that can be supported by other means."
"Finally, I would like to address one area where the Department has a disturbing history. For too long, the image of USDA has been marred by discrimination in the delivery of its programs and through its employment practices. One of my first actions upon arriving at the Department was to issue a civil rights policy statement that clarified that discrimination will not be tolerated in USDA. To achieve this goal, we are dedicating the resources necessary to improve the civil rights process within the Department. Examples of recent progress include: establishing a working group to properly collect demographic information about USDA's constituents so that we can identify where discrimination may be occurring; instituting provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, including the receipt for service, that help the Department focus on improving civil rights; and conducting an assessment of the Department's civil rights and outreach business processes to find ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs."
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