Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack came to the AFBF meeting in San Antonio with a message of optimism about a new Farm Bill. In a speech that could only be characterized as preaching to the choir, Vilsack stressed to the farmer audience something they know all too well: that passage of a new Farm Bill is important to the future of the farm economy. He also stressed how important the legislation is to consumers and drew loud applause when he said Americans need to appreciate farmers more.
At a press conference following his remarks, the Secretary painted an optimistic picture of Farm Bill passage, “We are on the 1 yard line. We just need Congressional leadership to push it over the line.” As a result, he said USDA is not working on what will happen if a Farm Bill does not get passed and permanent law gets implemented, “At USDA, we are not focusing on permanent law and will not as long as I feel there is progress toward passing a Farm Bill.” He warned, however, that if there is a breakdown in negotiations, he could reverse his point of view. Vilsack said he wants to implement the new Farm Bill very quickly after it becomes law and has directed USDA officials to begin to lay the groundwork for implementation.
But Don Villwock, President of IFB is less optimistic about the Farm Bill. He told HAT he feels it will be several months before Congress is able to pass a Farm Bill, “Dairy policy is holding up progress, and I think we may be in trouble.” Vilsack said the differences over dairy policy should not hold up the Farm Bill progress and called for both sides to come together. AFBF President Bob Stallman said AFBF would support any dairy program that got the Farm Bill passed. Currently, there are considerable differences between the House and Senate bills in the dairy section.