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Vilsack Spotlights Climate and Markets Ahead of House Ag Hearing

By Jerry Hagstrom

With a year in office, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has released summaries of the Biden administration’s work at USDA combatting climate change creating “more and better markets” ahead of his testimony Thursday before the House Agriculture Committee.

The hearing on the state of the rural economy will be virtual but livestreamed at 9 a.m. Central on Thursday. These House Ag hearings with the Agriculture Secretary are often marathon sessions with more than 40 members questioning the secretary on a range of topics.

Regarding USDA’s plans for markets, Vilsack highlighted U.S. agriculture exported a record $172.2 billion in fiscal year 2021, up 23% in value from 2020. USDA also is providing $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan to expand processing capacity for meat and poultry producers, though most of that funding is expected to be released sometime in 2022. USDA also release two new market reports for cattle to provide more information on formula transaction as well.

“Disruptions the pandemic caused to the agricultural sector highlighted the need for our nation’s food system to be more diversified, thereby creating more options for producers and consumers and enhancing the resiliency of the food supply chain. The Biden-Harris Administration is focusing historic resources on addressing the fundamental challenges the pandemic exposed,” Vilsack said.

On climate change, USDA pointed to a new ten-year strategy for forests to reduce fire risk. USDA also began the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership Initiative to finance “climate-smart commodity production.” Vilsack also cited USDA had “overhauled” the Conservation Reserve Program and enrolled 5.3 million acres, surpassing a goal of adding 4 million acres to the program. USDA’s Risk Management Agency also offered more flexibility for producers with prevented planting coverage to hay and graze cover crops as well. USDA Rural Development also provided over $1.6 billion in various funds for renewable energy programs.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., praised both statements.

On the climate release, Stabenow said, “This is all about getting the tools to fight the climate crisis into the hands of farmers, ranchers and foresters who are on the front lines. Addressing extreme weather conditions and keeping our food supply and natural resources safe is one of my top priorities as chair of the committee. Secretary Vilsack and his team have been amazing partners in this work and have made sure that the resources Congress passed are getting to the right place.”

“We’ve found ways to connect surplus milk, fruits and vegetables with so many families that needed assistance due to COVID, and jump-start local and regional food supply chains to get more locally sourced meat and produce to our neighbors,” Stabenow said.

“Not to mention, with this administration, our producers are restoring their competitive edge in the global economy. I am so proud of what our producers have been able to do in partnership with the Department of Agriculture. I look forward to making sure these success stories are reflected in our upcoming farm bill work as well.”

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