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Vilsack defends Obama's ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,’ biofuels

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that the Obama administration has a four-pronged approach to achieve rural prosperity and defended two of those programs against Republican attacks.

In a speech to the National Farmers Union, Vilsack said the Obama administration is committed to increasing exports, using conservation programs in a way that attracts farmers and increases recreation opportunities, growing local markets and producing renewable energy.

Neither foreign market promotion nor conservation programs are controversial, but Vilsack noted that Republicans have been critical of programs to encourage local and organic production and the use of biofuels in the military.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has been particularly dismissive of the administration’s support for small-scale agriculture, but Vilsack noted that younger farmers have started out in fruit and vegetable production for local markets.

“Why would you ridicule an opportunity for smaller producers to get into the farming business?,” he asked. “It makes no sense to me.”

Republicans have also criticized the administration’s commitment of $30 million in Navy, USDA and Energy Department funding to support commercialization of “drop-in” biofuel substitutes for diesel and jet fuel through the Defense Production Act Title III, and an additional $32 million to support research into advanced biofuel technologies that are in earlier stages of development. Republicans have said they are not sure these fuels are practical.

But Vilsack noted that he and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Energy for Navy Tom Hicks toured the USS Monterey at the Naval Station Norfolk on Saturday and that he cannot understand why anyone would ridicule becoming energy independent.

“Why be dependent on countries that disagree with us?,” he said. “It’s beyond me.”