The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Vilsack takes New York media tour to promote agriculture


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in a meeting Wednesday with reporters who cover the U.N. (U.S. Mission to the United Nations)

NEW YORK — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is visiting the nation’s media capital to promote American agriculture as a story in general and the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Agriculture Department that will occur next Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Vilsack and U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice met with an invited audience of reporters who cover the United Nations. A spokesman said Vilsack also had sessions scheduled with the National Broadcasting Company, which operates CNBC and MSNBC, as well as the editorial boards of The New York Times and Bloomberg News.

Vilsack’s New York media tour ends today.

At the U.N. session, which was attended by The Hagstrom Report, Rice introduced Vilsack to a half dozen U.N. reporters who rarely cover food and agriculture issues and noted that “critical work that relates to food security is integrally related to our peace and security work.”

Rice also noted that agricultural exports have helped create 1 million jobs in the United States in recent years.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
The Agriculture Department “is just as important to the security of the country today” as it was when President Abraham Lincoln set it up 150 years ago, Vilsack said. Having food security “is an enormous security advantage,” he said.

President Barack Obama has insisted on keeping U.S. agriculture as technologically advanced as possible, he added, which means the United States is “not afraid of competition” from other countries.

While the United States is also a generous provider of food aid, he noted, the country wants to help Third World countries develop their agriculture. Although the administration’s “Feed the Future” program is run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, USDA is helping farmers in Third World countries with everything from drip irrigation systems to risk management.

“We think this builds strong relationships between countries,” Vilsack said. “People who are well fed are less likely to be angry and more likely to be educated and more productive.”

Rice noted that the United States spends about $1.6 billion on food aid and contributes about 40 percent of the budget of the U.N. World Food Program.

That prompted reporters to ask how much money American agribusiness makes on food aid. Vilsack said he could not answer that question directly, but noted that food aid is a tiny percentage of U.S. exports and an even tinier percentage of the $350 billion U.S. agricultural economy, and does not have an impact on commodity prices.

He also noted that USDA is “in the process of examining” the purchase of food aid in the developing countries.

Vilsack noted that U.S. agricultural exports are expected to total $131 billion this year and $127 billion next year. Exports have been unusually high this year because other countries had weather problems and needed more imports than usual.

The economic problems in the European Union and China do not seem to have affected U.S. agricultural exports, Vilsack said, because other Asian countries have been growing.

Asked whether countries see the obesity problem in the United States as a signal the U.S. model is not working, Vilsack said people in many of the importing countries still need calories.

But he added that American advisers tell the countries that import U.S. food and agricultural technology, “We have a model that will for you, but you want to make sure you have a balanced and that you moderate [consumption of] processed foods.”