U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today announced $97 million in programs to support the continued development of farmers markets, farm to school efforts and rural economies and will also expand risk management tools for specialty crops and limited-resource farmers.
“Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America’s rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation’s families,” Vilsack told the more than 470 attendees at the 113th anniversary national convention of the National Farmers Union (NFU) in Wichita, Kansas.
“There are over 400 school systems in this country that are purchasing locally and this is a tremendous opportunity to help rebuild the rural economy,” said Vilsack, the 30th Secretary of Agriculture. He noted that the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicated more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand by selling their products locally.
“Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation’s kids.”
Vilsack, who is a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, said that NFU was fortunate to have strong leadership in the nation’s capital and had been very successful in reminding those in Washington about the value of family farms. “Farmers Union leaders are on top of things. They are passionate, persistent and relentless in getting their message out to have policies and programs to support family farmers and ranchers. “
Vilsack pointed out that the farm to school movement and other innovative approaches to directly marketing fresh healthy food to consumers was a “vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs and improving quality of life in rural communities,” and has been a priority for USDA over the last few years.
For the nation’s specialty crop farmers, beginning farmers and limited-resource producers who have lacked adequate risk management tools for generations, Secretary Vilsack also announced changes in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to help increase access to much-needed resources. “The Farm Bill is focused on making sure the next generation of farmers gets the help they need,” allowing new farmers to pay lower premium costs when starting up.
NFU President Roger Johnson praised the additional funds, noting, “the Secretary has been a very good friend to family farmers and ranchers and these new investments in rural America will pay off in spades.”
Vilsack once again noted that he remains a strong advocate of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “I love the RFS – I’m for RFS,” he said. “It’s taken a long time in part because the market is fluctuating so dramatically.”
“We need to make sure Congress doesn’t do anything to damage it or repeal it or make it difficult to use. We need to be advocates, spokespeople for this industry. We need to go out and tell folks this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Vilsack urged the crowd to continue to educate the public about the potential of weaning the nation from foreign oil imports and highlighting the potential of renewable fuels. He pointed to areas of the economy, like the military, that were converting to home grown fuels. “Navy is starting to look at renewable fuels. I am optimistic about this. We need to be advocates for this industry. We don’t want to lose this amazing marketing opportunity.”
“Secretary Vilsack has left behind a lasting legacy of commitment to agriculture and has helped plant the seeds of future prosperity that will benefit America’s family farmers and ranchers for generations,” said Johnson.