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Vilsack, Merrigan, other USDA officials to tour drought areas

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Tom Vilsack, Kathleen Merrigan, Juan Garcia, Bill Murphy

In a display of Obama administration concern about the drought and its impact on rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will tour Iowa next week, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will visit Georgia, and other officials will visit New Mexico, Texas and Missouri.

Vilsack will visit Cedar Rapids, Mason City, and a farm near Center Point on Monday, and Prairie City (near Des Moines) and Ames on Tuesday.

The secretary's speeches at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, at Soy Energy in Mason City, and at the Iowa Farm Bureau in Ames will be titled "Resilience of American Agriculture — Innovation, Diversity and Growing Market."

Merrigan will visit a farm near Edison, Ga., on Monday.

On Tuesday, Farm Service Agency Administrator Juan Garcia will host a roundtable in Las Cruces, N.M., with New Mexico and West Texas producers to discuss USDA disaster assistance efforts. On Friday, Garcia will host another roundtable with Texas producers in Bryan, Texas, and highlight disaster assistance efforts at the Southeast Texas Regional Cattlemen’s Association there.

Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy will visit farms near St. Louis and Stoutsville, Mo., on Tuesday, and then meet with producers at a community center in Carrollton, Mo., on Wednesday.

The selection of states for officials to visit in an election year is not lost on political analysts, especially since the agency titled its news release, “USDA Officials Stand with Farmers and Ranchers Affected by Extreme Weather and Natural Disasters.”

Iowa, Missouri and New Mexico are all considered political swing states in the presidential election. Georgia is considered Republican but has been trending more Democratic. Texas is still considered Republican, but with a growing Hispanic population is moving toward the Democrats.

On a recent fundraising tour of Texas, President Barack Obama said Texas is headed for battleground status "soon."