Ag Secretary Highlights Need to Revitalize Rural America

Ag Secretary Highlights Need to Revitalize Rural America

Speaking to Commodity Classic, Tom Vilsack explains approach administration is taking for trade and development.

Those attending the general session for the 2010 Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif., got the change to hear Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack outline the approach the Obama Administration is taking for global trade, as well as the initiative for rural revitalization.

Vilsack explained that "the values of this country" are founded in rural America noting that 45% of those serving in the military come from small towns. "Rural America is the heart, soul and guts of America," he says.

While the speech smacked a big of Mom and apple pie, he did delve into the new strategy the Obama administration will take on trade. "We will support free trade agreements," he says.

Speaking to Commodity Classic, Vilsack explained the administration's changing trade policy and the push for exports.

The National Export Initiative, kicked off by President Barack Obama during the State of the Union Address, aims to boost exports. Ag exports represent a $22.5 billion surplus and Vilsack says the aim would be to grow that in the future.

He notes that a "one size fits all" approach to trade agreements won't work going forward, although USDA will promote the three outstanding FTAs - South Korea, Colombia and Panama. He notes that different countries will be dealt with in specific ways when negotiating trade agreements.

During the press conference following the speech, Vilsack offered his take on potential changes to direct payments, which he says will affect 32,000 of 1.4 million farmers getting direct payments. Farm income above $500,000 and off farm income above $250,000 may bring limits to direct payments.

Vilsack also came out strongly in favor of biotechnology, especially with the challenges facing agriculture. He points to potential reductions in crop protection product use, and the need to improve crops to protect them from potential challenges caused by climate change. These can be met by biotechnology, he says.

You can take a listen to Vilsack's speech by clicking on the audio player on this page.

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