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Public Statements

Hearing Of The Subcommittee On Agriculture, Rural Development, Food And Drug Administration, And Related Agencies Of The Senate Committee On Appropriations - Secretary Vilsack Testimony

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this Committee, I appreciate the
opportunity to appear before you as Secretary of Agriculture to discuss the
Administration's priorities for the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and provide you an
overview of the President's 2011 budget. I am joined today by Deputy Secretary
Kathleen Merrigan and Scott Steele, USDA's Budget Officer.
I don't need to tell you that the American people have been struggling through
the most serious economic recession since the Great Depression. Families have been
forced to make difficult decisions in the face of unprecedented job losses. The
immediate effects of being unemployed are felt deeply by the unemployed and their
families. We have seen more and more Americans relying on USDA to help put food on
the table.
The challenges facing rural communities for decades have grown more acute,
which is why the Obama Administration is committed to new approaches to strengthen
rural America. Rural Americans earn less than their urban counterparts, and are more
likely to live in poverty. More rural Americans are over the age of 65, they have
completed fewer years of school, and more than half of America's rural counties are
losing population.
This year, President Obama took steps to bring us back from the brink of a
depression and grow the economy again. But with the unsustainable fiscal policies over
the past decade, it's time to get our fiscal house in order.
The President has announced the three year, non-security discretionary
spending freeze for the remainder of his term. This is a freeze on the bottom line rather
than an across-the-board freeze on all line items in the budget, which provides the
flexibility to achieve high priority goals by reducing funding for lower priority, duplicative,
or non-performing programs. USDA's proposed FY 2011 budget is a reflection of that
policy, essentially freezing funding for on-going discretionary programs at the FY 2010
level. When limits placed on select programs and efforts to eliminate earmarks and
one-time funding are taken into account, USDA's total discretionary budget authority is
reduced by over $1 billion. The decrease is primarily due to reductions in one-time
funding such as earmarks, supplementals, rescissions, and targeted program
reductions. However, USDA's total budget authority request pending before this
committee proposes a total of $129.6 billion in 2011, up from $119.3 billion in 2010,
primarily due to an anticipated increase in nutrition assistance program participation and
mandatory expenditures for crop insurance. The discretionary appropriation request for
this committee is $21.5 billion, which is comparable to the $21.7 billion enacted for
2010.
The 2011 budget request supports the Administration's vision for a strong rural
America through the achievement of four strategic goals. Achievement of these goals
will ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced
meals; create new economic opportunities for increasing prosperity; strengthen
agricultural production and profitability through the promotion of exports with a specific
emphasis on biotechnology while responding to the challenge of global food security;
and ensure the Nation's national forests and private working lands are conserved,
restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water
resources.
With the help of this Committee and the funding provided by the Recovery Act,
USDA has been able to achieve significant accomplishments over the past year. Some
of these accomplishments include:
SNAP has improved the diets of more than 38 million low-income people now
*
served by the program;
The financial distress of over 2,600 producers in 47 States has been relieved
*
through direct farm operating loans. Nearly 20 percent of beginning farmers and
socially disadvantaged producers obtain at least part of their credit needs from
USDA;
Critical rural infrastructure improvements have been made that will provide nearly
*
1 million Americans with improved access to safe drinking water, improve
facilities for 655 communities, including many that provide health care service
and educational opportunities, and create 84,000 housing opportunities for
families. USDA has made investments to improve watershed and flood control
on 37,000 acres in 36 States. These actions have created thousands of jobs,
while investing in projects that will provide benefits for years; and,
USDA has made available $2.5 billion to expand and enhance the Nation's
*
access to broadband services. USDA has taken a particular interest in
addressing the needs of unserved and underserved rural areas. Broadband
projects will support anchor institutions -- such as libraries, public buildings and
community centers -- that are necessary for the viability of rural communities.
USDA announced initial awards of $54 million in December 2009. A second
USDA announcement of $310 million was made on January 25, 2010. A third
USDA announcement of $277 million was recently made on February 17, 2010.
The second solicitation of applications was published in the Federal Register on
January 22, 2010; applications are being accepted through March 15, 2010. This
funding will open the door to new businesses that serve global as well as local
customers as well as improve the educational and medical opportunities for rural
residents.
Ensuring that All of America's Children Have Access to Safe,
Nutritious, and Balanced Meals
A major priority for the Department is ensuring a plentiful supply of safe and
nutritious food, which is essential to the well-being of every family and the healthy
development of every child in America. A recent report by the Department showed that
in over 500,000 families with children in 2008, one or more children simply do not get
enough to eat. There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that children who
eat poorly or who engage in too little physical activity do not perform as well as they
could academically, and that improvements in nutrition and physical activity can result in
improvements in academic performance. Too many children also have poor diets and
gain excessive weight. Recent data shows that the prevalence of obesity has increased
over 10 percent, to a level of 17 percent for children between 6 and 19 years of age.
There is also a paradox that hungry children are disproportionately prone to obesity.
Having poor access to healthy food contributes significantly to both of these problems.
Nutrition Assistance:
The budget fully funds the expected requirements for the Department's three
major nutrition assistance programs -- the National School Lunch Program, WIC, and
SNAP -- and proposes $10 billion over 10 years to strengthen the Child Nutrition and
WIC programs through reauthorization.
School lunch participation is estimated to reach a record-level again in 2011,
32.6 million children each day, up from about 32.1 million a day in 2010. This is
consistent with the increase in the school age population.
The reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Programs presents us with an important
opportunity to combat child hunger and improve the health and nutrition of children
across the nation. The 2011budget proposes a historic investment of $10 billion in
additional funding over ten years to improve our Child Nutrition Programs and WIC. It is
designed to significantly reduce the barriers that keep children from participating in
school nutrition programs, improve the quality of school meals and the health of the
school environment, and enhance program performance. Funding will be used to
improve the quality of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, increase the
number of kids participating, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make
program changes. With this investment, additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and
low-fat dairy products will be served in all school cafeterias and an additional one million
students will be served through school lunch programs in the next five years. Improving
these programs directly supports the First Lady's "Let's Move" campaign aimed at
achieving the ambitious national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity
within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
To ensure USDA makes progress to decrease the prevalence of obesity among
children and adolescents, and to improve the quality of diets, the budget includes an
increase of $9 million. The increase will allow USDA to strengthen systematic review of
basic, applied, and consumer research that provides the information necessary to
answer questions about diet, health, education, and nutrition-related behaviors. This
will ensure that that USDA and other Federal agencies can describe the best nutritional
behaviors and develop the best ways of communicating this information to help
Americans improve their diets. The increased funding will also be used to create more
effective nutrition education interventions for schools and communities, and broaden
and maintain tools and systems that Americans can use to adopt more healthful eating
and active lifestyles, in particular reducing overweight and obesity. The 2011 budget
includes an increase of $50 million for research through AFRI that will focus on
identifying behavioral factors that influence obesity and conducting nutrition research
that leads to the development of effective programs to prevent obesity. AFRI funding
will also focus research on addressing the micronutrient content of new food crops and
improving the nutritional value of staple crops, fruits and vegetables through plant
breeding leading to greater access to healthy foods.
The budget includes $7.6 billion for WIC, which will support the estimated
average monthly participation of 10.1 million in 2011, an increase from an estimated
9.5 million participants in 2010. The request is $351 million above the 2010
appropriation and supports a robust contingency fund. Highlights include expanding the
breastfeeding peer counseling program, doubling the size of the breastfeeding
recognition program, supporting Management Information Service improvements and
program research and evaluation, and providing a $2 increase in the value of the fruit
and vegetable voucher for children. WIC administrative activities are also funded, which
will facilitate continued implementation of the revised WIC food packages, required to
be implemented at the beginning of FY 2010. The changes in the food packages bring
recipient diets into better conformance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and
feeding recommendations for small children. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains were
added to the WIC packages, mostly for the first time. Fruit and vegetable consumption
is expected to increase significantly via the new cash value vouchers recipients will
receive, improving nutritional intake, improving long-term eating habits, and improving
the economics for our fruit and vegetable producers. Recipients will use their new
vouchers to purchase fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables year round.
Participation in SNAP is estimated to be about 40.5 million participants per month
in 2010, and is projected to increase to 43.3 million in 2011. The budget estimates a
total of $80.2 billion is needed in 2011 to fund all expected costs and includes a $5
billion contingency fund recognizing the uncertainty USDA faces in estimating actual
participation. The Recovery Act increased SNAP benefits $80 a month for a family of
four and will continue until the statutory cost of living adjustments (COLA) eclipse the
Recovery Act benefit levels.
For 2011, we need to continue to support America's families as they recover from
the current economic crisis many of them find themselves in. Fortunately, SNAP is
working as it should with participation increasing as the people in need increase.
However, changes need to be made to ensure that participants are treated fairly and
equitably and that the resources being delivered foster economic mobility. For these
reasons, we are proposing to improve the accessibility to SNAP. The main legislative
proposal for SNAP would establish a common, national asset allowance for means test
of $10,000 for programs government-wide. Programs with asset limits currently treat
assets inconsistently and without regard of the need to allow and encourage families to
save toward self-sufficiency. SNAP asset limits have been held for decades at $2,000
for most households and $3,000 for households with elderly. In addition, a second
proposal would exclude lump sum tax credits to prevent disruption in eligibility and
benefits in the wake of new and refundable tax credits, and the administrative churning
this creates. A third proposal would extend the Recovery Act provision that waives time
limits for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) for an additional fiscal
year. In total, these changes to SNAP would add $462 million to recipient benefits and
SNAP program costs in 2011 with a 5-year total of $4.5 billion.
The budget also includes increased funding for staffing needed to strengthen
USDA's ability to simplify and improve the nutrition assistance programs, enhance
capacity to improve nutritional outcomes, and encourage healthy and nutritious diets
and expand an obesity prevention campaign through efforts supported by the Food and
Nutrition Service.
Food Safety:
Protecting public health is one of the most important missions of USDA.
Foodborne illness is recognized as a significant public health problem in the United
States. These illnesses can lead to short and long-term health consequences, and
sometimes death. I am firmly committed to taking the steps necessary to reduce the
incidence of food-borne illness and protect the American people from preventable
illnesses. Over the past year, we have striven to make improvements to reduce the
presence of deadly pathogens and we continue to make improvements. At USDA,
about 8,500 inspectors work in approximately 6,300 slaughtering and processing
establishments, import houses, and other Federally-regulated facilities to ensure that
the nation's commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome,
and correctly labeled and packaged. A major focus is implementing the
recommendations of the President's Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) in
accordance with three core food safety principles:
Preventing harm to consumers;
Conducting analyses needed for effective food safety inspections and
enforcement; and,
Identifying and stopping outbreaks of foodborne illness.
The budget includes $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to fully
fund inspection activities and implement recommendations of the FSWG and other
initiatives aimed at improving USDA's public health infrastructure. This includes an
increase of $27 million to further implement recommendations of the FSWG and
strengthen our public health information infrastructure. Increased funding will be used
to enhance FSIS' ability to collect, analyze and present food safety data necessary for
improving inspection practices. Additionally, FSIS will hire more epidemiologists to
improve investigations of foodborne illness and outbreaks in coordination with State
officials to develop "trace back" tools and improve record-keeping. These
improvements will decrease the time necessary to identify and respond to foodborne
illness outbreaks, which will better protect consumers by improving our capability of
identifying and addressing food safety hazards and preventing foodborne illness.
USDA research continually works to meet the evolving threats to the Nation's
food supply and focuses on the reduction of the hazards of both introduced and
naturally occurring toxins in foods and feed. As part of an integrated food safety
research initiative, the budget proposes an increase of $25 million, including $20 million
for AFRI and $5 million for the Agricultural Research Service. This initiative will
strengthen surveillance and epidemiology programs, develop improved methods for
controlling food pathogens in the preharvest stage, develop innovative intervention
strategies to eliminate pathogens and contaminants, and improve technologies for
ensuring postharvest safety and quality.
Minimizing the Impact of Major Animal and Plant Diseases and Pests:
The budget includes $875 million in appropriated funds for the Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to protect agricultural health by minimizing major
diseases and pests. APHIS activities that contribute to this goal include pest and
disease exclusion, plant and animal health monitoring, response to outbreaks of foreign
plant and animal threats, and management of endemic pests and diseases. Of note,
the 2011 budget includes $11 million to continue efforts initiated with emergency
funding to address the light brown apple moth (LBAM). This is an increase of $10
million compared to 2010. The LBAM is an invasive pest that attacks a wide variety of
plants of agricultural or horticultural significance. APHIS estimates the pest could cause
annual production losses up to $1 billion if allowed to spread.
Assisting Rural Communities to Create Prosperity
The economic downturn has impacted many sectors and areas of the Nation,
including rural America. At this time, there remains high poverty in sparsely populated
rural areas, which is reflected in higher mortality rates for children, higher
unemployment, and declining populations. Since the beginning of the economic
slowdown, rural residents have experienced a greater decline in real income compared
to other parts of the Nation. Some factors contributing to this include lower rural
educational attainment, less competition for workers among rural employers, and fewer
highly skilled jobs in the rural occupational mix. It is not surprising that over 51 percent
of rural counties lost population and that a majority of farm families rely on a significant
amount of off-farm income to meet their needs. However, an energetic and creative
citizenry is looking for new ways to spur rural economic activity to create prosperity and
strengthen the economic foundations of their communities.
After a year as the United States Secretary of Agriculture, I have reached the
conclusion that we must overhaul our approach to economic development in rural
America. During the past year, at the instruction of President Obama, I worked on the
elements of a new rural economy built on a combination of the successful strategies of
today and the compelling opportunities of tomorrow. The framework of the new effort
recognizes that the rural economy of tomorrow will be a regional economy. No one
community will prosper in isolation. Further, USDA must help create economic
opportunities in America's rural communities by expanding broadband access,
promoting renewable energy, increasing agricultural exports, taking advantage of
ecosystem markets, capitalizing on outdoor recreation, pursuing research and
development, and linking local farm production to local consumption. The common goal
is to help create thriving rural communities where people want to live and raise families
and where the children have economic opportunities and a bright future.
The 2011 budget will assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are
self-sustaining, economically thriving, and growing in population. With the assistance of
the Committee, we have already taken important steps in this effort. With funding from
the Recovery Act, we supported farmers and ranchers and helped rural businesses
create jobs. Investments were made in broadband, renewable energy, hospitals, water
and waste water systems, and other critical infrastructure that will serve as a lasting
foundation to ensure the long-term economic health of families in Rural America.
This budget includes almost $26 billion to build on this progress and focuses on
new opportunities presented by producing renewable energy, developing local and
regional food systems, capitalizing on environmental markets and making better use of
Federal programs through regional planning.
Facilitating the Development of Renewable Energy:
On February 4, 2010, the President laid out his strategy to advance the
development and commercialization of a biofuels industry to meet or exceed the
Nation's biofuels targets. Advancing biomass and biofuel production that holds the
potential to create green jobs, which is one of the many ways the Obama Administration
is working to rebuild and revitalize rural America. In support of this effort, USDA's
budget includes funding for a variety of renewable energy programs across the
Department. These programs help ensure that farmers and ranchers are able to
capitalize on emerging markets for clean renewable fuels and help America achieve
energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The 2008 Farm Bill provided significant mandatory funding to support the
commercialization of renewable energy. The 2011 budget builds on this investment by
providing an increase of $17 million in budget authority to support $50 million in loan
guarantees for the Biorefinery Assistance Program. The budget also maintains the
budget authority for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) at $39.3 million. The
budget allocates most of the funding to grants rather than loans, because grant
applicants will be able to more efficiently leverage greater amounts of private sector
investment.
The Department will also focus additional research investments on the
production of energy crops and the development of renewable energy processing. The
2011 budget includes an increase of $33 million for a comprehensive research program
in alternative and renewable energy within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
(AFRI) competitive grant program. This will advance the development of dedicated,
bioenergy feedstocks, and feedstock production. The budget also proposes an
increase of $10 million for in-house research for the establishment of regional biofuels
centers dedicated to the development of energy feedstocks and bioenergy feedstock
production systems for different regions across the Nation.
Developing Local and Regional Food Systems:
With the growing interest among consumers in eating healthy foods and knowing
where their food comes from, promoting local and regional food systems can offer win-
win solutions for all involved.
USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" Initiative will work to reduce the
barriers to local and regional food production, such as the lack of local meat processing
and packing capacity, and promote opportunities to increase local and regional food
production and purchasing, such as supporting school purchases of local and regional
foods.
There exists great potential to create new economic opportunities for rural
America by strengthening local and regional food systems. Currently, many
communities across America have limited access to healthy foods, which can contribute
to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases,
such as diabetes and heart disease. Most often, these communities are also
economically distressed and less attractive to grocery stores and other retailers of
healthy food.
To address this problem, the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human
Services, and Treasury will implement the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to provide
incentives for food entrepreneurs to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers
to underserved communities. Under this initiative, over $400 million will be made
available in financial and technical assistance to community development financial
institutions, other nonprofits, public agencies, and businesses with sound strategies for
addressing the healthy food needs of communities. For USDA, the budget includes
about $50 million in budget authority for loans, grants, and technical assistance to
support local and regional efforts to increase access to healthy food, particularly for the
development of grocery stores and other healthy food retailers in urban and rural food
deserts and other underserved areas.
Capitalizing on Environmental Markets:
As America's farms and forests hold a tremendous potential for sequestering
carbon, improving water quality, and preserving biodiversity the budget requests the
resources necessary to conduct government-wide coordination activities that will serve
as the foundation for the establishment of markets for these ecosystem services.
Through the Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets and the Office of the
Chief Economist, the Department will establish technical guidelines that outline science-
based methods to measure the environmental services benefits from conservation and
land management, pursuant to the 2008 Farm Bill.
USDA conducts research that contributes to the development of climate change
mitigation and adaptation tools and technologies, and USDA outreach and extension
networks make them available to farmers, ranchers, and land managers. The 2011
budget includes an increase of $50 million within AFRI for global climate change
research to develop mitigation capabilities and adaptive capacities for agricultural
production. The budget also proposes an additional $5.4 million for ARS to conduct
research that will increase the resilience of crops so they can thrive in variable and
extreme environments, as well as focus on mitigating the effects of climate change by
ensuring the availability of water through improved management.
Regional Innovation Initiative:
In addition to these priorities, the 2011 budget maintains support for USDA's key
rural development programs, including $12 billion for single family housing loan
guarantees and nearly $1 billion in guarantees for business and industry loans. These
programs not only provide needed assistance to rural families and the capital needed to
create jobs, they also create the foundation needed to improve rural markets and
communities which is essential for long-term economic growth.
In order to utilize the Federal government's assets more effectively, USDA's
Rural Innovation Initiative will promote economic opportunity and job creation in rural
communities through increased regional planning among Federal, State, local and
private entities. By creating a regional focus and increasing collaboration with other
Federal agencies, USDA resources will have a larger impact, enabling greater wealth
creation, quality of life improvements, and sustainability.
To support this initiative, USDA requests authority to set aside up to 5 percent of
the funding within approximately 20 existing programs, approximately $280 million in
loans and grants, and allocate these funds competitively among regional pilot projects
tailored to local needs and opportunities. This will encourage regional planning and
coordination of projects that are of common interest throughout self-defined regions.
This approach will also support projects that are more viable over a broader region than
scattered projects that serve only a limited area. It will also help build the identity of
regions, which could make the region more attractive for new business development,
and provide greater incentives for residents to remain within their home area.
Broadband:
Although funding for broadband under the Recovery Act will end in 2010, USDA
will continue to make broadband loans and grants under the authorities provided by the
2002 Farm Bill, as amended by the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2011 budget provides
$418 million in loans and grants for this purpose.
Promote Agricultural Production and Biotechnology Exports as
America Works to Increase Food Security
We will also give priority to promoting the production of food, feed, fiber, and fuel,
as well as increased exports of food and agricultural products, as we work to strengthen
the agricultural economy for farmers and ranchers. America's farmers and ranchers are
the most productive and efficient in the world and the U.S. agricultural sector produces
$300 billion worth of farm products providing a major foundation for prosperity in rural
areas as well as a critical element of the Nation's economy.
The Department provides a strong set of financial safety net programs to ensure
the continued economic viability and productivity of production agriculture, including
farm income and commodity support programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance,
as well as other programs. The farm safety net is critically important and provides the
foundation for economic prosperity in rural America. For 2011, USDA estimates that
roughly $17 billion in total direct support will be provided to farm producers and
landowners through a variety of programs.
Recognizing the need to reduce the deficit, the budget proposes to better target
direct payments to those who need and can benefit from them most as well as cap total
payments paid to larger operations. For 2011, legislation will be proposed to build on
reforms made by the 2008 Farm Bill by reducing the cap on direct payments by
25 percent and reducing the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) payment eligibility limits for
farm and non-farm income by $250,000 over three years. The savings from these
proposals will impact approximately 30,000 program participants, which is about
2 percent of the 1.3 million total program participants, and will over time comprise less
than 2 percent of the total direct support the Department expects to provide annually to
farm producers and landowners.
The Federal crop insurance program is an important part of the farm safety net.
It allows producers to proactively manage their risks associated with losses from
weather, pests and diseases, and financial risks associated with price fluctuations. The
stability provided by crop insurance has become an important factor used by
commercial banks to determine the credit worthiness of their agricultural borrowers.
The budget also reflects savings expected to be achieved through reforms in the
Federal crop insurance program the changes we are proposing will help protect farmers
from higher costs, rein in costs for taxpayers, improve access to crop insurance and
provide greater protection from crop losses. Negotiations are currently underway with
the crop insurance industry to restructure the contract that governs their delivery of the
crop insurance program. The proposed new Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA)
includes six primary objectives, which will (1) maintain producer access to critical risk
management tools; (2) realign administrative and operating subsidies paid to insurance
companies closer to actual delivery costs; (3) provide a reasonable rate of return to the
insurance companies; (4) equalize reinsurance performance across States to more
effectively reach under-served producers, commodities, and areas; (5) enhance
program integrity; and (6) simplify provisions to make the SRA more understandable
and transparent.
These objectives align with RMA's primary mission to help producers manage the
significant risks associated with agriculture. By achieving these six objectives, the new
SRA will ensure financial stability for the program and the producers it serves, while
increasing the availability and effectiveness of the program for more producers and
making the program more transparent. The new agreement will also provide insurance
companies with greater flexibility for their operations and financial incentives to increase
service to underserved producers and areas, while ensuring that taxpayers are well-
served by the program.
National Export Initiative:
Agricultural trade contributes directly to the prosperity of local and regional
economies across rural America through higher commodity prices and increased sales.
USDA estimates that every $1 billion worth of agricultural exports supports 9,000 jobs
and generates an additional $1.4 billion in economic activity. At the same time,
however, foreign trade barriers limit exports, thereby reducing farm income and
preventing job growth in the agricultural sector.
USDA has an important role in expanding export opportunities for our food and
agricultural products. As part of the Administration's National Export Initiative, the
budget proposes increased discretionary funding of $54 million to enhance USDA's
export promotion activities. The initiative includes increases of $34.5 million to
supplement funding for the Foreign Market Development Program -- commonly known
as the Cooperator Program -- and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty
Crops Program. This funding will be in addition to that provided to the programs by the
Commodity Credit Corporation and will double the level of funding available to the
programs in 2011.
Increased funding of $10 million is also requested for the Foreign Agricultural
Service, which will be used to expand export assistance activities, in-country
promotions, and trade enforcement activities to remove non-tariff trade barriers, such as
unwarranted sanitary and phytosanitary standards and technical barriers to trade
imposed on U.S. commodities by other countries.
Research to Improve Agricultural Productivity:
For 2011, the budget provides almost $800 million for research aimed at
improving agricultural productivity and protecting agriculture from pests and disease that
limit the productive capacity of agriculture. The proposed research will improve genetic
resources and cultivars that will lead to improved germplasm and varieties with higher
yields, improved disease and pest resistance, and resilience to weather extremes such
as high temperature and drought. The budget also funds several initiatives to support
research on breeding and germplasm improvement in livestock which will enhance food
security and lead to the development of preventive measures to combat diseases and
thereby increase production. The budget also includes a 56 percent increase for the
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) programs aimed at helping
farmers and ranchers adopt practices that are profitable and beneficial to communities.
As part of this increase, the 2011 budget proposes funding for the Federal-State
Matching Grant SARE Program to assist in the establishment and enhancement of
State sustainable agriculture research, education and extension programs. The
matching requirement will leverage State or private funds and build the capabilities of
American agriculture in becoming more productive and sustainable.
As the world population grows and the demand for food with it, we must look to
new technologies for increasing production, including biotechnology. Biotechnology can
expand the options available to agricultural producers seeking solutions to a variety of
challenges, including climate change. However, prudent steps must be taken to ensure
that biotech products are safely introduced and controlled in commerce. For 2011, the
budget requests $19 million, an increase of 46 percent, to strengthen USDA's science-
based regulatory system for ensuring the safe introduction and control of biotechnology
products. This includes preventing regulated genetically engineered products from
being co-mingled with non-regulated products and to ensure the safe introduction of
biotechnology products. USDA will also continue to provide technical input for the
development of science-based regulatory policies in developing countries. By
promoting consistency between the domestic regulatory system and the import policies
of our trading partners, the likelihood of the U.S. being the supplier of choice improves
as markets for these products grow.
Increasing Global Food Security:
Recent estimates from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
suggest that more than one billion people around the world are chronically hungry,
many of them children.
A productive agricultural sector is critical to increasing global food security.
USDA plays a major role in helping American farmers and ranchers improve the
efficiency of agricultural production, including the safe use of biotechnology and other
emergent technologies. New technologies and production practices can enhance food
security around the world by increasing the availability of food as well as providing
developing nations tools for increasing their self reliance and giving them greater control
over their production decisions.
For 2011, the budget includes approximately $2.1 billion in emergency and non-
emergency foreign food assistance programs carried out by USDA and USAID, and
capacity building programs. Through the McGovern-Dole International Food for
Education and Child Nutrition Program, which is administered by the Foreign
Agricultural Service, USDA will assist an estimated 5 million women and children in
some of the world's poorest countries.
In support of agricultural reconstruction and stabilization activities in Afghanistan,
USDA is increasing the number of agricultural experts serving in Afghanistan from 14 to
64 in 2010. The work of these courageous individuals is essential for stabilizing
strategic areas of the country, building government capacity, ensuring the successful
management of assistance programs, and addressing the issue of food insecurity. It is
estimated that as much as 80 percent of the Afghan population relies on agriculture for
wages and sustenance. Consistent with these efforts, the Department has established
a priority for increasing the number of Afghan provinces in which women and children
are food secure from 10 to 14 by the end of 2011, ensuring food security for 41 percent
of the country's provinces by the end of 2011.
An important means to assist developing countries to enhance their agricultural
capacity is by providing training and collaborated research opportunities in the United
States, where participants can improve their knowledge and skills. The 2011 budget
provides increased funding for the Cochran and Borlaug Fellowship Programs, which
bring foreign agricultural researchers, policy officials, and other specialists to the United
States for training in a wide variety of fields. Under our proposals, as many as 600
individuals will be able to participate in these programs and bring this knowledge home
with them to benefit their respective countries.
In addition, the Department is working with other Federal partners to reduce
global food insecurity and increase agriculture-led economic growth in developing
countries. These combined efforts will not only ensure that the world's children have
enough to eat, but will improve national security as well. By promoting strong
agricultural systems in the developing world, we will eliminate some of the primary
causes that fuel political instability and diminish the economic vitality of developing
nations.
Ensuring private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more
resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources
USDA plays a pivotal role in working with farmers and ranchers to protect and
restore private working lands, while making them more resilient to threats and
enhancing our natural resources. USDA partners with private landowners to help
protect the Nation's 1.3 billion acres of farm, ranch, and private forestlands.
The budget includes record levels of support for conservation programs, bringing
total funding to about $6 billion, which includes $5 billion in mandatory funding for the
conservation programs authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill and nearly $1 billion in
discretionary funding for other conservation activities, primarily technical assistance.
This level of funding supports cumulative enrollment of more than 304.6 million acres in
Farm Bill conservation programs, an increase in enrollment of about 10 percent over
2010.
The budget will accelerate the protection of our natural resources by strategically
targeting funding to high priority program areas. This includes an increase of
$25 million to implement the Strategic Watershed Action Teams initiative that will target
identified watersheds for a period of 3 to 4 years with the intent of reaching 100 percent
of the landowner base in each watershed eligible for Farm Bill conservation program
assistance. The additive effect of planned and applied conservation practices would
hasten environmental improvement while keeping production agriculture competitive
and profitable.
Research:
Underlying the achievement of all of the Department's goals is a strong research
program. Research fuels the transformational change that rural America needs to
excel. To help bring about this change, I have launched the National Institute of Food
and Agriculture (NIFA), which will be a key element in providing the knowledge and
technical advances that will lead to increased productivity, more abundant food
supplies, improved nutrition, safer food, and a cleaner environment.
Agricultural research ultimately leads to increased profitability for farmers,
reduced food costs and greater choice for consumers, and improved management of
the natural resource base. To get more out of our research, the Department must focus
its research and development components on making sure we do our very best job not
just to increase productivity but also to make sure that we protect what it is they are
growing and raising. The National Institute is going to have a more focus, in part on
improving productivity and also being able to figure out how we can do a better job of
protecting crops and animals from pests and disease. The more we produce, the
healthier we produce, the better off we will be. If you conduct more research that will
enable farmers to be more productive and improve the protection of their crops from
pests and disease, in concert with protecting the market through food safety, we will be
able to expand domestic markets and increase export markets.
As I have highlighted a few of the most significant research initiatives, I would like
to point out that the 2011 budget proposes the largest funding level ever for competitive
research with $429 million for AFRI, an increase of $166 million over 2010. AFRI is the
Nation's premier competitive, peer-reviewed research program for fundamental and
applied sciences in agriculture. It is broad in scope with programs ranging from
fundamental science to farm management and community issues.
The budget also maintains formula funding for research and extension at 1862,
1890 and 1994 land-grant institutions, schools of forestry and schools of veterinary
medicine at the 2010 level, thereby maintaining the research infrastructure needed to
meet our research goals. These important capacity building programs will allow
institutions to sustain the matching requirement that many of these programs have,
thereby allowing Federal funds to leverage non-Federal resources. All of these
institutions are also eligible to apply for AFRI funding to enhance their research efforts.
Management Initiatives:
The budget also includes a number of management initiatives that will improve
service delivery, ensure equal access to USDA programs, and transform USDA into a
model organization.
As part of a government-wide effort to improve service delivery and IT security,
the Department will continue to implement improvements to address vulnerabilities to
aging IT systems used for delivering billions of dollars in farm, conservation, and rural
development program benefits that will result in more reliable, customer-focused service
to producers.
Ensuring that the Department and its programs are open and transparent is a
priority for USDA. Therefore, USDA is proposing to expand the Office of Advocacy and
Outreach, which was established by the 2008 Farm Bill, to improve service delivery to
historically underserved groups and will work to improve the productivity and viability of
small, beginning, and socially disadvantaged producers.
In support of my commitment to improve USDA's handling of civil rights matters,
the budget includes funding to ensure that USDA has the staffing and resources
necessary to address its history of civil rights complaints and seek resolution to claims
of discrimination in the Department's employment practices and program delivery. To
demonstrate this commitment, USDA under my leadership has been aggressively
pursuing resolution to several pending discrimination lawsuits against the Department.
Most notably, USDA and the Department of Justice reached a settlement of outstanding
claims of discrimination by black farmers in the Pigford case. Resolution of this litigation
is evidence of the commitment to resolving all of the large civil rights cases at USDA,
including those involving Hispanic, Native American, and women farmers.
As USDA's workforce interacts directly with the public we serve every day, the
Department's employees are some of our most valuable assets. To enhance the
Department's human resource capabilities, USDA will focus on improving leadership
development, labor relations, human resources accountability, and veterans and other
special employment programs. Investing in our employees will create an environment
that is more responsive to the Department's broad constituency.
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There is no doubt that these tough times call for shared sacrifice. The American
people have tightened their belts and we have done so as well. We made tough
decisions, but this budget reflects our values and common sense solutions to the
problems we face. It makes critical investments in the American people and in the
agricultural economy to set us on a path to prosperity as we move forward in the 21st
century.
I would be pleased to take your questions at this time.


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