January 27, 2020

AgriTalk Transcript: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the discussion focused, in part, on the Farm Bill, trade issues, and the proposed Dietary Guidelines.  An unofficial transcript of the discussion with Sec. Vilsack is available below.

Mr. Adams: Welcome back. We’re at USDA, talking now with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. We appreciate your time, Mr. Secretary. We know you have a lot going on. We just have a limited amount of time, so we want to touch on as many areas as we can. We have a deadline coming up next Tuesday for signup in the farm bill. We just talked with Deputy Secretary Harden, who said you monitor the signup. Are you happy with the way it’s going?

Sec. Vilsack: I am, Mike. We’ve got 95% of the acres reallocated and yields adjusted for 95% of the farms that we expect to participate in that part of it, and about 85% have already made elections on ARC and PLC, which is a significant increase. We’re seeing day-to-day two or three or four percent increase, so we are very pleased with where we are.

And we want to remind folks that if you don’t sign up before the end of the deadline, then the election will be made for you, you’ll be in the PLC program, but you won’t be entitled to benefits in 2015, so we really encourage people to get this work done. And all you need to do is get on the registry, get your appointment set up, and that qualifies.

Mr. Adams: So you do not anticipate, at this point, the need or even the consideration of an extension of that deadline in any way?

Sec. Vilsack: We’re going to look at this from day to day. I’ve talked to our team about maybe the opportunity for flexibility. But given the pace of what we’re seeing, it may not be necessary.

Mr. Adams: But that’s still a possibility?

Sec. Vilsack: It’s still a possibility.

Mr. Adams: Okay, so we’ll watch that as far as as we get closer to that deadline next Tuesday. When would you make that call if there was an extension?

Sec. Vilsack: Probably the end of this week.

Mr. Adams: And of this week.

Sec. Vilsack: Yeah.

Mr. Adams: Okay, all right. While we’re here, let’s also talk about trade, because that’s a very hot issue, the talk of TPA and how that impacts, of course, deals like TPP. Where do you think that stands, and getting that message out about the importance of TPA? Because there still seems to be a reluctance by some to go with that. How important is it?

Sec. Vilsack: Mike, farmers need to get engaged in this conversation. They need to make sure their members of Congress and their senators understand how important this is for them personally and for agriculture generally. Thirty percent of our ag sales trade related, roughly equivalent to our net farm income, so if we don’t have export opportunities, we’re not going to make as much money.

This TPP opportunity is a huge opportunity to expand to an increasing middle class in Asia—five hundred and twenty-five million consumers, middle class consumers today in Asia. In just 15 years it’ll be 3.2 billion. It’s a huge opportunity for us. We anticipate $123 billion impact on our overall economy from TPP. Ag is roughly 9% of exports. You can do the math. So we’re talking about hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars of opportunity. This is critically important.

Last point. If we don’t do this, China will. I’d rather have us lead the effort on labor, and environment, and enforcement mechanisms, and IP protection, and agriculture than having the Chinese lead that effort.

Mr. Adams: A concern about Japan. Will they come down on their tariffs? Will they play ball with the other partners in this? What are you hearing?

Sec. Vilsack: We’ve had progress with Japan. Still work to do. Our Canadian friends less flexible and less willing to negotiate. Part of it, I think, is that we don’t have TPA in place. Those that we’re negotiating with are assuming that, under the current situation, any trade agreement would be subject to modification or amendment by Congress. That’s 535 people that could weigh in on this. We can’t have that if we want to conclude these negotiations in a timely way. We need to get Trade Promotion Authority done.

Mr. Adams: I want to talk about these proposed dietary guidelines. A lot of concern, especially in the livestock industry, that red meat is going to be phased out of the school lunch programs. You’re going to be very much involved in making these final determinations. You have said it’s about health, it’s about nutrition, not about environment. What can you tell us about how this process is going to play out?

Sec. Vilsack: Well, the first thing is we extended the comment period because we want to make sure people have an opportunity to weigh in on this. And I want to reassure people who are listening to this program and reassure the ag community that I understand what my job is. My job is not what the experts on the panel, Scientific Advisory Panel, had. They had freedom to basically opine about a lot of different things. And some of the things that they brought up are appropriate to have discussions about, perhaps not in the context of dietary guidelines, but in the context of overall where are we headed in agriculture.

My job, based on the statute, based on the law, I took an oath to follow the law, follow the Constitution. That oath basically says even if I want to talk about other things, I have to look at dietary and nutrition. That’s what we ought to be deciding these guidelines on, and that’s what I intend to make sure that I do. Obviously I can’t speak for the full process because Secretary Burwell’s got a very important role to play as well.

Mr. Adams: You’ve come out with the definition “actively engaged” as far as those that can receive farm program benefits. Senator Grassley says it’s a step in the right direction. He would like to see it go farther. Tell us about how you came up with this particular definition and who you see it applying to.

Sec. Vilsack: I think we’ve probably hit it just about right because the folks who wanted more strict restrictions are not happy, the folks who feel maybe we’ve gone a little bit too far are not happy, so I suspect we’ve hit it right. Look, Congress directed us to do this, but also limited us in terms of what we could do. It said you can’t do this relative to family farms, you don’t have to do it relative to corporations, so all that’s left are joint ventures, limited partnerships and general partnerships, roughly 1,500 operations throughout the United States. There we said the default position is one actively engaged manager.

Now if you’ve got a complex or a large operation, you might be able to make the case, if you were to adequately document that case, to have more than one, but you can’t have any more than three. And I think that’s a reflection of the flexibility that we need relative to the nature of agriculture generally, but also tightening up what was a very significant loophole where we had ten, 15, 20 different people saying because I was on a conference call and made a decision to buy this or that, or to plant this or that, I’m somehow actively engaged. We want to get it back to a system that we can defend.

Mr. Adams: We’re almost out of time. Coexistence. Can we achieve that, do you think, in agriculture?

Sec. Vilsack: I think we have to. Now I may be the only person in America that believes that, but look, GMOs are here to stay. We need them if we’re going to feed the world. Organic is a high value proposition. If we want young people to get engaged in this business and be able to do it from scratch, organic is a way to do it without having to buy 1,000 acres and have the capital costs associated with it. So to me coexistence is about making sure that all options are on the table for folks.

Mr. Adams: Very good. So we watch this week for any announcements on the deadline for the signup, but right now you feel pretty good about the way it’s going.

Sec. Vilsack: Absolutely.

Mr. Adams: Very good. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Sec. Vilsack: Thanks, Mike.

Mr. Adams: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as we wrap up our broadcast here at USDA.

[End of recording.]

AgriTalk Transcript: Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden

Categories: Farm Bill

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden was a guest on today’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where, in part, the discussion focused on the Farm Bill. An unofficial transcript of a portion of today’s discussion is available below.

Mr. Adams: And welcome back, as we broadcast today from USDA here in Washington, D.C. A little bit later we’ll talk with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, but very happy to have with us right now Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden. How are you?

Ms. Harden: I’m all right, Mike, thank you, and thank you for being at USDA. We’re excited to be your host.

Mr. Adams: Well, I know you’ve got a lot going on, and we’ve got a lot of areas we want to touch on, but this is a busy time, especially we’re coming down to the deadline for getting signed up in the farm bill programs. You’ve been very active with the farm bill implementation. What’s your feel overall how implementation’s been going?

Ms. Harden: Well, overall I feel really good. I think we hit the ground running. We had a lot of time to prepare, frankly, so I think our teams were ready in the field as well as here in Washington, so as soon as Congress got us a bill and the President signed it, we hit the ground.

And, you know, it started out with that disaster program. A year ago we were in the short [rows] on getting that out. The President told the Secretary get it done in 60 days, and we did. We had a really robust process that we tried to be as transparent as we could and as accountable to our stakeholders.

There were a lot of decision points, I think over 400 decision points across the department, so a lot of folks were involved. But we’ve gotten everything out. And I’m glad you mentioned the signup dates. The deadline is next Tuesday. I believe it’s the 31st.

Mr. Adams: Right.

Ms. Harden: So I’m encouraging all your listeners, if you haven’t been into our offices, please go.

Mr. Adams: We’re going to talk with the Secretary about this, but I want to get your thoughts on this because we often talk about it, deadlines don’t seem to mean much in Washington, and they get extended a lot of times. Any thoughts that this one would need to be extended past next Tuesday?

Ms. Harden: Well, you know, we’re looking at the numbers. We’re looking at how many folks, how many outstanding, where we see pockets of problems and trying to really encourage people right now to get in there. This is supposed to work for producers. We want their opinions. They have the ability this time, more than in other farm bills, to really decide what program, what policies work best for their operation, so we want them in there.

We’re encouraging. We sent out postcards, we’re having meetings, we’re working with partners, so I’m really hopeful that this deadline will hold firm. A lot of folks had to sign a register, and you know what that means. It means they’ll come in later for the face-to-face meeting. We just couldn’t handle the workload. And that deadline is actually May 15th, which is a hard deadline if we’re going to be ready for payment. So I’m hopeful that we can get this done within these time frames.

Mr. Adams: Do you monitor signup on a daily basis?

Ms. Harden: We do. The agency does, FSA does, and they give the Secretary numbers, and myself numbers, so we can see what’s happening out in the countryside. And as we get closer to the 31st, we’re seeing an uptick, as you might imagine. Folks realized they had a little extra time in part of the signup, so they’ve used that wisely, I believe. And we are seeing some of the states where we had, you know, smaller numbers even just three, four weeks ago, much better turnout, and having producers come in and talk with our staffs.

Mr. Adams: Is it where you hoped it would be or are you still lagging behind somewhat where you thought it might be?

Ms. Harden: Right now it’s a little bit better than I thought it would be. [With] still, you know, a few days to go, and I think producers will really wait till the very last minute. I think Monday and Tuesday will be very, very busy days for our field staff, but really it has improved over the last couple days and weeks. But we’re looking every day to see what’s needed. This is about giving tools to producers. We want to make sure that they take advantage of [them.]

[End of recording.]

Wednesday Morning Update- Policy Issues; Trade; and, the Ag Economy

Note: Thanks very much to the many readers who have expressed how much they have enjoyed the FarmPolicy newsletter over the years. The numerous Emails and tweets from readers about the newsletter ending next week have been extraordinarily gracious and very much appreciated.

Policy Issues

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at Agri-Pulse that, “Republicans and Democrats slammed the Agriculture Department over allegations of abuse at a livestock research facility in Nebraska and accused agency officials of stonewalling lawmakers’ requests for information.

“‘It sounds like it was a house of horrors that was going on there,’ said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., referring to allegations about the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center contained in a New York Times article published in January.

“Rooney, one of several members of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee who grilled USDA officials about the issue, said the allegations cast the cattle industry in a bad light. The idea that the research highlighted in the article was undertaken at the industry’s request was ‘bull-you-know-what,’ Rooney said.”