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Posts tagged: Tom Vilsack

Representing the Faces of Agriculture through Research and Promotion Board Diversity

At AMS, we are committed to ensuring that all research and promotion boards are as diverse as the members they serve. Photo courtesy of National Black Growers Council.

At AMS, we are committed to ensuring that all research and promotion boards are as diverse as the members they serve. Photo courtesy of National Black Growers Council.

U.S. agriculture is increasingly diverse, with farmers, ranchers, processors, distributors, vendors, and more from various backgrounds.  Just like their products, the operations and the men and women that run them are diverse – in gender, race, age, size, and production practices.  At USDA, we are committed to supporting all of American agriculture with our programs and services.

My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is in a unique position to encourage and promote diversity, particularly when it comes to industry leadership.  AMS oversees 22 industry-funded research and promotion programs that allow farmers and businesses to pool resources, set common goals, and make collective decisions about how to best develop new markets, strengthen current markets, and conduct important research and promotion activities covering a wide variety of topics from nutrition to sustainability.  These programs, which create opportunities for farms and businesses across the country, are led by industry board members appointed by the Secretary.  AMS has been working hard to ensure that research and promotion boards reflect the full diversity of American agriculture.  We know that the programs are stronger when the boards represent the diversity of the industries they represent and the consumers they serve. Read more »

USDA Rural Development Assistance Helps Massachusetts Family Afford Home

Pictured above are Heidi Richards and her daughter in their newly constructed Habitat home with Deputy Under Secretary, Patrice Kunesh.

Pictured above are Heidi Richards and her daughter in their newly constructed Habitat home with Deputy Under Secretary, Patrice Kunesh.

Recently, I visited the Habitat for Humanity homes on Cape Cod, Massachusetts in celebration of National Homeownership Month, a time to recognize the important role that housing plays in the economy. The construction of these homes was made possible through loans from USDA Rural Development (RD).

The partnership between USDA Rural Development and the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity continues to help provide numerous low-income families with safe, affordable, and well-built homes. USDA Rural Development and the Cape Cod Chapter of Habitat for Humanity first partnered in 2011. In FY 2013, USDA Rural Development financed four out of five of the Habitat homes built on Cape Cod, and they are currently on track to finance eight more Habitat homes being built on Cape Cod in FY 2014. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Record Trade Supports Strong Rural Economies

Agriculture is one of the brightest spots in our economy, and the American brand of agriculture is surging in popularity worldwide. Trade and market access support good-paying jobs and drives economic growth. A strong rural economy is critical to the overall economic health of the United States.

The past five years represent the strongest in history for agricultural trade with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling $619 billion over five years. Agricultural exports in fiscal year 2013 alone reached $140.9 billion, the highest level on record, and supported nearly one million jobs here at home. Read more »

US – EU Organic Equivalence Trade Arrangement Opens New Markets

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Driscoll’s berries being sold in a store (Photograph courtesy of Driscoll’s. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.)

Two years ago this month, the United States and the European Union (EU) implemented an organic equivalence arrangement, meaning products that are certified as organic in the U.S. can also be sold as organic in the EU, and vice versa. This arrangement broke down many of the barriers that organic producers, especially small and medium-sized farmers, were facing in exporting their goods to one of their largest markets. It has also proved to be a good example of how we can recognize each others’ systems and work together across borders to arrive at beneficial agreements.

The U.S. and EU have some of the strongest regulatory protections in the world, and the organic equivalence arrangement recognizes these standards and uses them for everyone’s benefit. Before the agreement, growers and companies wanting to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications to two different standards, which meant a double set of fees, inspections, and paperwork. Now, if a product is certified organic by one party, it can bear both the USDA organic seal and the EU organic logo, without going through that second certification process. This is possible because the EU and the U.S. have recognized that though our regulatory systems are different, they both produce high quality organic food and agricultural products under rigorous programs. Secretary Vilsack, while addressing the EU agricultural ministers earlier this week, had the same message of cooperation in regards to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Local Markets, Local Growth

Many consumers want to “buy local” and support their local economy with their purchases. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results indicate that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Today, local food is a more than $7 billion industry and growing, according to industry estimates. The excitement around this market is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Read more »

The Promise of a Brighter Future

L to R: Vernon Brown, USDA Community Program Director in Kentucky; RHS Administrator Hernandez; and Thomas Fern, USDA Rural Development State Director for Kentucky.

L to R: Vernon Brown, USDA Community Program Director in Kentucky; RHS Administrator Hernandez; and Thomas Fern, USDA Rural Development State Director for Kentucky.

Recently, I visited southeastern Kentucky, where I joined Rural Development State Director Tom Fern on a whirlwind tour to parts of an eight-county region designated by President Obama as a rural Promise Zone and by Secretary Vilsack as part of USDA’s StrikeForce initiative covering 73 Kentucky counties.

During my first stop, I joined Congressman Hal Rogers as he announced a $23 million loan (funded by USDA’s Community Facilities program) to purchase the property and facilities of the Knox County Hospital in Barbourville.  That loan was the first one to come across my desk last December shortly after I joined USDA. Meeting with some of the 200-plus dedicated employees of that hospital affirmed my belief that granting that loan was the right decision, as the funding will enable those healthcare workers to continue to serve the families of the region. Read more »