USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy both made news and spoke frankly to the delegates and attendees of the 113th National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Wichita, Kansas.
NFU’s national convention kicked off this past Saturday and ends today. Nearly 500 members were in attendance.
McCarthy spoke to conventioneers on Monday and thanked NFU for not “having a knee-jerk reaction” to EPA’s roll out of a draft Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
McCarthy said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA are working on details of the final rule and appreciated the comments submitted by NFU. On the subject of ditches, she said that EPA needs to make the definitions clearer. “Most farm ditches were never covered before, and they won’t be in this new rule,” she promised.
Another EPA hot topic for farmers has been the lack of action on setting up to date requirements for the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard.
“The RFS is a complicated program, and we weren’t able to accomplish what we needed to do last year,” she said. “Implementing the RFS as Congress intended has been challenging,” McCarthy said.
Vilsack also spoke to NFU on Monday and announced $97 million in programs to support the continued development of farmers markets, farm to school efforts and rural economies and will also expand risk management tools for specialty crops and limited-resource farmers.
“Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America’s rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation’s families,” Vilsack said.
“There are over 400 school systems in this country that are purchasing locally and this is a tremendous opportunity to help rebuild the rural economy,” Vilsack said. He noted that the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicated more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand by selling their products locally.
“Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation’s kids.”
Vilsack, who is a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, also had high praise for NFU leaders and staff in Washington, D.C. “Farmers Union leaders are on top of things. They are passionate, persistent and relentless in getting their message out to have policies and programs to support family farmers and ranchers.”
Vilsack also pledged his continued support for RFS.
“I love the RFS – I’m for RFS,” he said. “It’s taken a long time in part because the market is fluctuating so dramatically.”
“We need to make sure Congress doesn’t do anything to damage it or repeal it or make it difficult to use. We need to be advocates, spokespeople for this industry. We need to go out and tell folks this is the right thing to do,” Vilsack said.
He urged the crowd to continue to educate the public about the potential of weaning the nation from foreign oil imports and highlighting the potential of renewable fuels. He pointed to areas of the economy, like the military, that were converting to home grown fuels.
“Navy is starting to look at renewable fuels. I am optimistic about this. We need to be advocates for this industry. We don’t want to lose this amazing marketing opportunity.”