Exclusive: Secretary of agriculture talks US drought
Sec. Tom Vilsack on USDA response
- Duration 6:39
- Date Jan 9, 2013
Sec. Tom Vilsack on USDA response
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-- and some new information on this severe drought gripping our country the worst one.
In decades in -- Agriculture Department just releasing some new information here.
Counties about 15 that the United States.
As natural disaster area -- in the year ahead now last year at the same time for some perspective.
It was only 95 counties and we certainly talked a lot about the drought last year in the conditions that caused.
A lot of widespread devastation in so many communities.
And even if you don't live anywhere near farm are probably feeling the financial pinch in the supermarket it is a dynamic when we talk about food prices.
And there are concerns that the trend will continue higher food prices and more -- joining us now -- -- personally interview today on this topic.
-- is the secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack the secretary -- have you with us today.
And it's great to be with you as well nearly mentioned food prices and those numbers that are quite profound just just thinking about it fits in the United States describe the real world impact.
I've having nearly 600 counties as natural disaster area as.
At the beginning of the year.
Well this is because these counties have for eight consecutive weeks been on the drought monitor with severe drought conditions which indicates that they are headed for potential problems if we don't get.
A decent spring and summer.
This basically opens up disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers in those counties.
Not just through the US did that potentially through the SBA so it's important for.
Planning purposes it folks kind of know where they stand.
You mentioned food prices interestingly enough farmers and -- only get about fifteen to sixteen cents of every food dollar.
So even though commodity prices may go up because there's a limited supply it may not have as much of an impact on food prices as -- energy prices.
-- -- saying it's a -- there are quite a lot of dynamics at play there that's.
That's that's to be sure when we look at what we -- and then the supermarket you mention what we can deal or what in that we have a problem and wonder what what can we do about it.
And some of the disaster relief is the response from the USDA.
To something like -- droughts in the government in general.
Similar to the response of the government and its use of taxpayer money -- and -- disaster happens like a hurricane.
It's a little bit different because we don't operate under the FEMA process of the FEMA program so we don't have resources allocated or appropriated for this purpose.
That's one of the reasons why we were so frustrated at the failure by the house to get a farm bill through.
In the waning days of the 2012.
Because that would have allowed us to to provide cash assistance to these producers so as it is right now we're very limited what we can do.
We're trying to get the rest of the federal family to focus on issues that can help these farmers and ranchers.
Right now for example the corps of engineers is very focused on the Mississippi River and navigation ability to get crops two ports so that we can continue to export and create jobs here in America.
Yeah I -- that some of the barges are only half fall.
Going to have been deaths -- this is that right tell because because the weight they're worried about running running aground.
The river is basically down to very minimum -- -- barge traffic and and as a result of the -- currently working to try to clear up channel for those barges that requires work to clear out rocks that have been there forever obviously.
They're doing and an expedited basis but is still interrupts the flow of traffic which is unfortunate.
Fortunately though we still have traffic on the Mississippi there were concerns that we might not even have -- at this point in time so we have to keep her fingers crossed that the water will continue to -- down -- -- Did you think easy thing about dry you think about his -- in fields that you have to remember how important in Mississippi still listed to commerce in this country.
Nation congress and the failure to pass set farm -- -- new farm bill they ended up extending.
The old farm bill.
And the question of the role of government is something we talk a lot about these days and I was doing a seven interviewing and and research leading up to this statement and I got two very different reactions I want to ask you about.
When I asked the folks about the role of government one person said to me.
The role of government is to pray for rain that's about all they can do -- this.
I had another person -- -- well you know -- the government has been involved in this industry farming industry for a long time and at this moment with this drought.
You can't pull back -- -- two opposite ends of the spectrum where you stand there.
Well actually I think you have to do both.
Obviously -- friends always always good idea but in terms of government's role.
A crop insurance and providing disaster assistance are two ways in which we can provide help and assistance to make sure that we don't lose farmers I mean the reality is we're very blessed nation.
In terms of our ability to produce enough food feeder cells -- food secure nation is because we've got great farmers.
We obviously want to continue to populate those rural areas and one way you do that is by keeping people on the farm.
If they have a tough year they can do everything right they can be a perfect farmer but mother nature won't basically cooperate.
And they can lose everything they have so it's a very difficult situation which government can play -- very important role if we have the tools right now we have limited tools.
Did you mean it for example that the farmers facing bankruptcy.
If they -- in part because in -- drought.
There'd be answered and I think this is a loaded terms they use whatever term you like a bailout for the farmer I have is -- some sort of program that you're looking to develop like that -- It's a little bit different than that basically farmers go out and they buy insurance just like we buy home insurance or car insurance.
Farmers by crop insurance and that crop insurance is a partnership between the farmer in the government and insurance company.
So when their face a loss a crop they they get a payment it's obviously not as much as they would get if they sold their crop.
But it's enough to keep them afloat.
In addition to that we have in the past provided additional cash assistance two livestock producers and dairy producers.
Who may not have the capacity or may -- have the opportunity to -- crop insurance because not available.
For livestock or -- so that disaster -- basically supplements or crop insurance quick.
I don't question for you because we talked about the environment often has talking about the fiscal environment and that's and -- it's very much a reality for you as a secretary of agriculture.
Where do you see the opportunity to cat when you look at your own budget in the fiscal environment that -- in right now in the year ahead.
Where are you looking to potentially have some savings for the American people.
Well we've already reduce their budget by about twelve and a half percent -- are our workforce is down by 6000 folks were restructuring.
Closing offices and they're being more efficient but there's also an opportunity within the farm programs.
That's one of the missed opportunities -- not getting the farm bill passed because there were -- reforms in what the senate passed what the house.
-- committee passed that would have provided somewhere between 23 and 34 billion dollars of savings hopefully we can resurrect those reforms in this debate that'll take place this year.
They look -- -- talking about the debate as it continues secretary nice to have you with us on the program really appreciate the time today.