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Vilsack takes conciliatory tone to Farm Bureau

DANIEL LOOKER 01/10/2011 @ 5:30pm Business Editor

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.

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