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Rural America needs ‘circular economy,’ says Vilsack

Congress could use the 2023 farm bill to promote a “circular economy” that creates jobs and income in rural America rather than relying on rural areas for raw materials that are processed elsewhere, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday. “That’s an important component of any farm bill discussion of the future,” he told reporters.

It was the second time in two weeks that Vilsack contrasted the “extraction economy” that now exists — “We allow the results of those natural resources to be value-added somewhere else” — with a so-called circular economy, where processing plants would be located near the farms and ranches that produce the crops and livestock. A circular economy would generate more jobs and wealth in rural communities, he said.

For decades, rural America has had lower income and higher poverty rates than urban areas.

Also on Wednesday, Vilsack announced the release of $1.4 billion in loans and grants to businesses in rural areas. The 751 projects were intended to create or save 50,000 jobs this year.

Vilsack introduced the concept of a circular economy during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Jan. 20.

“I think it’s going to be important for us as we look forward to try to develop what is called a circular economy, in which the wealth is created and stays in rural areas,” he said.

As examples, he pointed to biofuels, which are produced predominantly in the Farm Belt.

He also said that Biden administration proposals to expand capacity in the meat industry could mean new local and regional processors.

A local processor, he said, “creates local jobs. That allows the revenue and wealth that’s created from processing to stay in the community.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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