A recent article in the publication Bloomberg Businessweek insinuated that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to take the five billion dollars currently spent on direct payments to farmers and put it into “rural initiative” programs, including broadband grants and nutrition programs.
Vilsack says he was interviewed for the Bloomberg article, but he tells Brownfield at no time did he call for five billion dollar cuts to farm programs.
“If you look at the transcript that we provided, there’s no mention of that at all—none at all,” says Vilsack. ‘It’s an unfortunate circumstance where I think a reporter had basically an idea and a story that he wanted to write, and what I told him wasn’t necessarily consistent with that—but he just decided to write it anyway—which is unfortunate because it gets a lot of misinformation out there.”
The accuracy of the article aside, Vilsack’s USDA has been criticized by some for putting too much emphasis on rural development programs, and organic and so-called “local food” initiatives, and not enough on traditional farming. Vilsack defends his efforts to spur economic development in rural America, but says he continues to be a fierce advocate for strong farm safety net programs as well.
“We understand that there are certain risks inherent in agriculture that are probably different than virtually any other business, industry or occupation in the country,” he says, “and that we need a strong safety net in order to protect not just our farmers and ranchers, but also the consumers who, in this country, benefit from a relatively affordable food supply which is safe and abundant.”
At the same time, Vilsack says deficit reduction is a big challenge. He proudly points out that USDA has already saved four billion dollars that was put towards deficit reduction by renegotiating the agency’s agreement with crop insurance companies.