In recent months, the Federal budget has dominated the conversation here in Washington. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have been working hard on mission critical priorities, even as we implement mandatory across-the-board budget cuts.
The good news is that our proactive efforts to cut costs have saved more than $828 million in recent years, putting us in a better position to deliver important programs.
But we also have not lost sight of a key requirement for these programs to continue: passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.
In January, Congress took short-term action to extend many 2008 Farm Bill programs for nine months. Those programs will expire in September, limiting their effectiveness and providing no long-term certainty for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
As Congress returns to Washington in the coming days, leaders from both parties have signaled a willingness to come together and get a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill passed. That is promising news. USDA intends to provide whatever technical assistance we can to help Congress pass a long-term, comprehensive bill.
A Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would allow USDA to continue our record accomplishments on behalf of the American people, while providing new income opportunities across rural America.
It would enable USDA to further expand markets for agricultural products at home and abroad, strengthen conservation efforts, create new opportunities for local and regional food systems and grow the biobased economy.
It would maintain important agricultural research, and ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all Americans. A comprehensive bill would also continue programs that directly help rural communities – such as the 110 grants USDA awarded this week under our Value-Added Producer Grant program to help rural small businesses manufacture new products, expand local food systems and create jobs.
We have not lost sight of the importance of a long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill – and I know folks across rural America are counting on Congress to get the job done as soon as possible. We stand ready to help in any way we can.
For an audio version of this week’s column, please click here.