Vilsack promises Biden administration will focus on markets
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the National Farmers Union today that the Biden administration’s Agriculture Department will focus “on new, more, better and fairer markets.”
In a speech to NFU’s annual convention, being held online this year, Vilsack made a pitch for the importance of climate policy but in the context of creating new markets and revenue streams for farmers through markets for carbon sequestration, turning farm waste into new products and using traditional USDA programs to incentivize farmers to use climate-smart practices.
Vilsack also said he is determined that trade agreements will be vigorously enforced and that he plans to speak with the top agriculture officials in Canada and Mexico this week to tell them that the United States will insist that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade will be enforced “to the letter.”
He particularly cited the need to make sure Canada complies with the dairy and wheat provisions.
Vilsack noted that farmworkers have been declared essential workers and said he would work with governor’s offices to make sure that states “honor the essential worker status and do not gloss over” it.
He repeated previous statements that regional and local markets need to be strengthened, that more processing facilities need to be built and that the Environmental Protection Agency needs to implement the Renewable Fuel Standard in a way that is “enforced and respected” throughout the administration.
The carbon markets must be designed “by farmers for farmers” and not for the investor class, he said.
Vilsack also noted the announcement today of the appointments of advisers on racial equity and fair markets.
Vilsack said that the last tranche of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program that the Trump administration was implementing must be studied to determine that the payment system is appropriate and fair. He gave no schedule for the release of new payments under that program, but noted that the application system is open and that farmers will have another 30 days to make applications after the new rules are announced.
He said he would look into the reestablishment of a task force on concentration and fair markets that was established with the Justice Department in the Obama administration and whether it should be expanded to include the Federal Trade Commission and the Small Business Administration.
Passage of Biden’s American Rescue Plan is also vitally important to helping socially disadvantaged farmers, he said.
On broadband internet access, Vilsack said he is “skeptical” of the private sector’s ability to provide high-quality service in rural America because companies “can’t make the business case.”
The government has to subsidize rural internet, he said, adding that he has spoken to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about using transportation rights-of-way to put in fiber optic cable.
The climate agenda cannot be advanced without the data that would be obtained through rural broadband, he added.
Vilsack also said he wants to hire staff at USDA, particularly in the scientific positions. He noted that there were many jobs that went unfilled in the Trump administration.
In the Obama administration, USDA was considered one of the best large federal agencies in which to work, he said, but “today it is at the bottom” on those lists.
The Trump administration, he noted “did away with teleworking” and signaled that they did not trust USDA employees. But teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic has been productive, he said. USDA offices cannot be opened completely, he added, until “we are on the other side” of the pandemic.
“We have to rebuild the morale, we have to listen,” he said.
–The Hagstrom Report
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