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Vilsack takes conciliatory tone to Farm Bureau

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack braved a rare Atlanta
snow and ice storm Monday to thank members of the American Farm Bureau
Federation for what they do as farmers and ranchers and pledged to continue
promoting U.S. ag exports and fiscally conservative farm policies.

Vilsack acknowledged his own saddened reaction to the
shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson, Arizona over
the weekend, adding that it reminded him of the 1986 murder of the mayor of his
home town of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

“I learned in 1986 that we ought to take a moment to
appreciate what we have,” he said. For Vilsack, that includes the farmers he
works with today.

“I have been looking to Bob and Farm Bureau increasingly
for advice on the many issues that confront us,” he said, referring to Farm
Bureau president, Bob Stallman, a cattle and rice producer from Texas.

Vilsack said that he and his staff have been working hard
to increase exports of U.S. commodities and will continue to do so. Jim Miller,
Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, is
currently in China working to remove barriers to U.S. beef exports, he said.

The Obama Administration is expected to soon submit a
free trade agreement with Korea to Congress for ratification.

Vilsack said he hopes Congress will approve it.

“We hope that creates momentum for other trade
agreements,” he said.

Vilsack got several rounds of applause from about 3,000
Farm Bureau members listening to his speech. Many rose to their feet after he
said the tax package passed at the end of 2010 will bring useful tax breaks for
investments on farms, as well as a two-year estate tax that has a $5 million
per spouse exemption “to not have to worry that the farm will be split up.”

Vilsack also defended USDA’s proposal to regulate glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa under the Plant Protection Act. USDA’s
environmental impact statement on the alfalfa includes isolation distances and
planting and harvesting restrictions that Farm Bureau, American Soybean
Association and others have argued are unscientific and not needed.

Vilsack said it would have been easier for him to ignore
the issue. But USDA is trying to come up with a policy that will also be
accepted by organic farm groups that want the genetically modified alfalfa
banned.

Vilsack said his goal is similar to Farm Bureau’s aim of
protecting property rights.

“If you want to be able to grow genetically modified
crops, you ought to be able to do that. If you want to be able to grow
indentity-preserved conventional crops you ought to be able to do that. If you
want to be able to be an organic farmer, you ought to be able to do that,” he
said.

That drew another round of applause.

Stallman has said several times the his organization
includes all of those kinds of farmers, large and small. At a press conference
Sunday he said that a nephew has grown organic rice on his own Texas farm, with
mixed results as a commercial venture. 

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