Late last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack went to Omaha, Nebraska to discuss the President’s “All of the above” energy strategy, and meet with wind energy and rural development officials. Speaking to members of the American Coalition for Ethanol, he said that while the drought is severe and the Obama Administration is moving to help affected farmers and ranchers, we won’t know the impact of this drought until harvest time – but we do know that working together, we will get through this challenge.
The Secretary noted that Nebraska has been hit hard by drought. Today, USDA declared an additional 172 additional counties across the United States as primary natural disaster areas due to drought – and as of today, all of the State of Nebraska is covered by primary or contiguous disaster designations for drought.
The Secretary noted that at President Obama’s direction, USDA is doing all it can within its current authority to help, and he outlined some action the Federal government has already taken.
USDA has simplified the process for disaster designations, to help respond more quickly to disasters such as this one and reduced the interest rate for FSA Emergency Loans, to be sure credit is available during these tough times. USDA also lowered the payment reduction for emergency grazing of CRP land, to give some additional help to livestock operators. And Monday, USDA announced its intent to purchase up to $170 million in meat, poultry and catfish products to further assist folks who’ve been impacted by drought.
At the President’s direction, agencies across the Federal government continue looking for ways to help.
In his meeting with Nebraska wind industry officials, the Secretary noted that thanks in part to the Obama Administration’s investments in clean energy – the largest in American history – the United States has doubled renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources since 2008. Generation from wind turbines in the increased 27 percent in the last year alone, continuing a trend of rapid growth.
Noting that there are 28 biobased companies in Nebraska alone, the Secretary said rural America is being “reinvented” through new opportunities in the biobased economy, and through renewable energy. In particular, said Vilsack, President Obama is committed to supporting the wind energy industry that’s creating jobs and opportunity across the nation, including in Nebraska.
The Secretary noted that Nebraska continues to benefit from renewable energy Farm Bill programs. From the start of fiscal year 2009 through today, USDA has funded 432 Rural Energy for America (REAP) projects in the state of Nebraska alone. 106 more REAP projects nationwide were announced on Tuesday.