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Vilsack: Food security a national advantage

2012_0416_Vilsack_NAAJ1

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack makes a point during a speech
to the North American Agricultural Journalists. (The Hagstrom Report/Charles de Bourbon)


By JERRY HAGSTROM

Food stamps put more money in farmers' pockets than crop insurance and farm subsidies, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday, as the House Agriculture Committee prepares for a reconciliation markup Wednesday at which Republicans are likely to offer a proposal for a big cut in that program, now known formally as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP.

“If you believe that 16 cents of the food dollar ends up in the pockets of farmers,” Vilsack said, then out of $100 billion in nutrition spending $16 billion goes to farmers said in a speech to the North American Agricultural Journalists. “That’s more than direct payments and the crop insurance subsidy combined.”

“Food security is an enormous advantage this country has,” Vilsack said.

He said the upcoming farm bill should be called “the food, farms and jobs bill.”
Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack
“It is about the farming, it is about the food we eat, the food we trade …” but it is also “about virtually every aspect of our department,” Vilsack said.

It is “anyone’s guess” when Congress will finish the bill, but it is also clear that the Senate Agriculture Committee is “serious” about its work, Vilsack said, adding that he hopes there will be action on the bill this year.

If the 2008 farm bill is extended, he said, that would mean that farmers who experience disasters this year would not get any assistance because the disaster section of the bill expired last year.

Amidst reports that House Republicans will propose big cuts in the food stamp program, Vilsack said that while a recent study has shown that food stamps — now known formally as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP — reduce poverty and the severity of the poverty, the program also benefits farmers and others in agriculture.

“If you believe 16 cents of the food dollar ends up in the pockets of farmers,” Vilsack said, then out of $100 billion in nutrition spending $16 billion goes to farmers. “That’s more than direct payments and the crop insurance subsidy combined.”

“Food security is an enormous advantage this country has,” Vilsack said.

Agriculture is also “a job creator,” he added. “There is a reason manufacturing has increased in the Midwest. When you have prosperous farmers, they can afford buy those pieces of machinery” that are manufactured in Iowa and other cities.

In response to a question, Vilsack also listed the main accomplishments of the White House Rural Council in reaching across agency lines:
  • The Small Business Administration has decided it must do a better job of extending credit in rural areas.
  • The Navy and Energy departments have joined the Agriculture Department in signing a memo of understanding to develop aviation biofuel, which has also led to more commercial interest in it.
  • Farm Service Agency office employees are being trained to advise rural Americans of job openings known to the Labor Department.
  • The Health and Human Services Department has expanded its definition of critical care hospital facilities and is working to attract more doctors to rural America through forgiveness of loans.
  • The Agriculture Department has expanded the definition of biopreferred products that federal agencies should buy.
Returning to the “food, farm and jobs bill,” Vilsack said, “It’s important for the country to understand why the safety net is there” and appealed to the journalists to tell the broad story of agriculture to the American people.