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Vilsack sees end to direct payments, more rural development

George C. Ford, CR Gazette –

CEDAR RAPIDS — Farmers accustomed to receiving federal direct payments or subsidies likely will see them disappear, according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The former Iowa governor told The Gazette Editorial Board Thursday that fewer economic resources will force changes in the safety net that protects farmers from catastrophic crop loss.

“I think the next Food, Farm and Jobs Bill will likely create a strong safety net with a focus on crop insurance,” Vilsack said. “I think it’s fair to say that direct payments likely will not be funded. There will be a program that will replace direct payments and essentially complement crop insurance.

“It will provide some degree of revenue protection for those who suffer as a result of precipitous declines in crop prices or a natural disaster wiping out their crop.”

Vilsack said the number of conservation programs will be reduced, but there will be greater flexibility in the way the programs are operated. He said there will be a renewed emphasis on agricultural research, which he believes has not had appropriate federal support for many years.

“I think you will see new strategies for extending and providing greater leverage for the resources that the government commits for research,” Vilsack said.

Rural economic development and resulting job creation will be a central theme of the next Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Vilsack said the USDA wants to make programs more flexible in the way communities can use them to attract business and partner with local and state agencies to grow jobs in rural communities.

Vilsack said there is growing support in Washington for collaboration among government agencies. He cited a three-way project involving the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy and the USDA to develop a new industry.

“The U.S. Navy is interested in purchasing — sometime in the future — 50 percent of all its fuel needs as domestically-produced biofuel,” Vilsack said. “They feel it’s a more secure source of energy and they also believe it will be a job creator.

“We will combine resources with these other agencies to help build new refineries and — for a period of time — buy down the cost of non-food feedstocks, which could be biomass, livestock waste, municipal waste, perennial grasses, crop residue or a whole series of things.”

Vilsack said the U.S. Navy will agree to contract with the refinery for a period time to purchase all the fuel produced by the facility. He said commercial airlines likely will take over and expand the biofuel market after it is initially launched by the three agencies.

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