Contact: USDA Office of Communication (202) 720-4623
Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman
The National Farmers Union
September 9, 2002
"Thank you very much for that warm introduction.
It is a pleasure to be with all of you again.
I think last year this group met in the Jefferson Auditorium at USDA. So I'd like to welcome you all to the nation's capitol and thank you all for giving me the opportunity to talk with you today.
"And particularly to welcome you under
You've had a big transition in your organization this past year and I think that your organization has done very well under that new transition and I congratulate you on your new President and look forward to continuing to work with you in a very productive way.
"You are here at a very interesting time
in our history because it is this week that we commemorate and look back on the events of September 11 and the tragedies of just one year ago Wednesday. It was a very, very horrific day but it also brought our nation together. It strengthened our resolve-our commitment to freedom and our compassion to help others.
"The President has asked as part of this reflective time -as we pay
tribute to the fallen heroes that we recommit ourselves to giving back and that will be the theme of this week's events as he goes around the country and those of us in the Cabinet and his administration go around the country, reaching out to give back to make America stronger-to fight terrorism through acts of kindness.
"Whether its mentoring a child or volunteering at a food bank
or a community kitchen or your local 4-H club or FFA or visiting a senior citizen or working with or even contributing monetarily to a charitable organization-all of these things give back and help to make the world we live in a better place and helps us fight terrorism.
Today one of the announcements that we are making at USDA is that we are going to honor the victims and their families by creating living tree memorials to various communities that have been impacted
by the tragedies. We are providing nearly $1 million through our U.S. Forest Service to plant trees and build memorials that we hope will create a long-lasting tribute to our fallen heroes.
"As we look back at September 11, we also know that one of the biggest priorities that we have had to face as a country and as a department is that of homeland security. President Bush
obviously made the protection of our homeland a very high national priority.
"As well, USDA is working aggressively to ensure that our programs are protecting agriculture and our food supply from potential threats and particularly now we are concerned not just about unintentional introductions but intentional acts that might affect our food supply.
We've been working with the Homeland Security Office, with other agencies in government, particularly
HHS, with states, with universities, with research facilities-all to strengthen our agriculture programs so we can continue to protect our food supply.
"I want to give you a few quick facts because some questions have been
raised about our commitment in this area.
"This year we will provide more than $500 million in new spending for food safety, research, and plant/animal disease protections.
"There is a record
level of funding for food safety protection programs with 7,600 inspectors. We have significant increases in plant and animal inspection programs. By next year we will have nearly 4,000 border inspectors a 55 percent increase in just three years.
Mr. Hawks is here today and I am sure he going to cover some of this in more detail. But these have been a high priority of program areas for USDA.
"We've invested in security upgrades in much needed laboratory renovations and construction in ensuring that laboratories are as secure as possible. Because as we know from Anthrax we don't want the wrong people to get their hands on dangerous agents that all the various research institutions do research with.
"We can't ever rest on our accomplishments. We have to be vigilant throughout the food chain at every level from farm to processors to transportation to retailer; it falls upon the entire food chain, including production agriculture. You look at what happened last year, and we talked about this, I remember when I talked to the Farmers Union last year about the threat of
something like Foot and Mouth Disease to our food system, how it could so dramatically impact our production agriculture. And so we have to remain vigilant in every way that we can:
to be on alert, to watch for anything unusual, to make sure that nothing threatens our food supply.
When you look at something like Foot and Mouth that is so easily transmitted, so contagious, that is the kind of thing we have to continue to protect
"The President, as you know, has proposed a new Homeland Security Department. He'd like to have the Congress pass that as soon as possible. I hope that while you are up on the Hill, making your visits you will express your support for the President having that Department and having that flexibility to deploy
people where they need to be deployed to protect our homeland.
"There is much more to be done this year as the Congress has just a short amount of time left before it recesses to go home and campaign for the fall campaigns. We want to work with the Congress in a bipartisan manner to accomplish so many other things.
"The President had an economic forum in August, which I was privileged to participate in along with several from the agriculture industry. We want to continue to create incentives to help with the economic agenda in this country, including a permanent repeal of the death tax, which could help farmers and ranchers substantially. We want to work with Congress on a responsible drought
relief package to help those producers who are most in need and who don't have adequate risk management tools.
"The President two weeks ago in Oregon announced his Healthy Forests Initiative.
This year, as you know, we've been dealing as one of our crisis issues this summer, one of the worst fire years that we've ever experienced. And so
we have a Healthy Forests Initiative that the President would like to try to move on.
"Then there is the energy bill, which I've heard so much about and it's good for agriculture because the energy bill includes, in the Senate version, a renewable fuels standard. Many of you heard me say that when I went to speak to the Commodity Classic earlier in the year
I heard from the soybean and corn producers that to them the energy bill was as important as the farm bill because this provides another opportunity for marketing agricultural products and as you know the President's energy plan contains in it a number of references to renewable fuels and the importance of renewable fuels and the President has been a strong promoter and supporter of ethanol and other renewable fuels.
"The Senate and House also have the Agriculture Appropriations to deal with. The Congress has 13 appropriations bills yet to deal with and so certainly we're hoping we get our appropriations bills before they go home because that does have a big impact on the government.
agenda is a big one. It's something that we continue to work strongly with others in the administration to make sure that we can have a strong agenda before the Congress recesses this year.
"Now I know that one of your priorities that you are working on this year is farm bill implementation.
I have to say that I am
extremely proud of the group of people that we have working on farm bill implementation.
I think they've done yeoman's work. This first of all is a very difficult bill to implement because it changes so much of prior law and it is also one of the shortest times in the history of farm bill where we've had a farm bill passed to apply to the current crop year. So we have a council of people that are working on implementation that is overseen by the Sub cabinet and myself and
we have team that is working throughout government to make sure the regulations are done the decisions are made even with some of the other agencies because when it comes to environmental issues and so forth we have to bring in EPA, Interior and so forth.
"During recess we announced many of the implementation measures the dairy and commodity signups have been
announced, economic development grants for rural communities. We announced pulse crop loan rates last week. We've clarified the information that farmers need to provide regarding yields. That announcement was made last week.
appreciate all the patience of the farmers and ranchers out there who are depending upon these announcements to get made quickly to make sure that we proceed as expeditiously as possible. I can tell you we are doing everything we can to do that. The farm bill continues to be an absolute top priority in our department in terms of implementation and again, I think that our people that are working on this-this group that is heading up the decision making are some of our top career people:
Keith Collins who is our Chief Economist, Scott Steele, who is our top commodity person in the budget office, all of those budget decisions need to be made, the program analysis decisions and Hunt Shipman, who as you know joined us last year from the Appropriations Committee and knows a tremendous amount about this and is just doing yeoman's work.
"We continue also to monitor the drought, which I know is another issue of importance to all of you.
We've been very aggressive in our drought relief and expediting our emergency declarations. We've announced haying and grazing for a number of counties and areas, we've extended that haying and grazing on CRP acres from August 31st
to November 30. Today, we are announcing the opening of CRP haying and grazing on all CRP lands
throughout the country.
"We've also been looking a very creative ways to provide relief.
We had announced about two or three weeks ago $150 million
available to cow-calf operators through the feed assistance program using-we have over 1 billion pounds of nonfat dry milk in storage-we are using some of that in this feed assistance program, a very creative idea that came out of our folks at USDA to not only use some of our surpluses but to help those in need in this difficult year.
"Crop insurance-we have
record levels of land insured because of the reforms that were made as a result of the 2002 crop insurance reform and we are pleased to see that overall about 80 percent of the cropland in this country is now covered by crop insurance-a risk management tool that really helps people in difficult times such as drought. We want to help those particularly who don't have the risk management tools. We continue to be supportive of disaster assistance for producers that are most affected by widespread drought and
those who had less access to risk management tools. This assistance should be provided in a responsible way so we can help those producers who are hurting most, the livestock producers who don't have the risk management tools. There are a number of proposals now pending in Congress and we hope that Congress will work in a bipartisan manner to produce a package that meets the President's objectives.
"We've also been working very hard on trade. As you know the President was finally given trade promotion authority. And we just recently unveiled the WTO proposal, which we believe would level the playing field among the countries of the world. Your President was recently in Japan at the time I was there with my counterparts from four other nations and the EU, I should say, to talk about how we move forward to globally assist
agriculture and to continue to provide new opportunities for our farmers and ranchers abroad.
"In rural development, we see rural economic development as a key part of the President's economic plan. The President's talked a lot about economic well being of the country. He held the economic forum, which I talked about. We need to continue to look at our
rural development plans as critical to a large part of the country that fits in to the economic well being.
The farm bill contained many new funds for infrastructure in rural America, water infrastructure, high-speed Internet access, to make sure rural America is not left behind.
"Last month, we released more than $700
million for water and wastewater treatment projects in 47 states.
We continue to look for ways to create jobs, to expand business opportunities in rural communities.
I think one area where we have been particularly proactive in these rural development programs is looking for business opportunities for agriculture to get more involved in value-added and I think that's an important part of how we can utilize these rural development
"Many of you know we also manage the nutrition programs, food stamps, school lunch and so forth. These are important programs. We are working with Secretary Thompson at HHS to promote a balanced diet and exercise. We've been working to promote the healthy eating packages and so forth. Today, we are also pleased because we understand this has been a
difficult time particularly for pork producers.
We are pleased to announce we will be purchasing $30 million in pork and pork products for our school lunch and nutrition programs. We believe this will help the farmers, who have as I said suffered from low prices.
"So it's been a busy time, a busy year but I think one
that's been very productive. I cannot say enough about all of the people who work at USDA on behalf of our farmers and ranchers every day. I think sometimes we hear a lot of criticism about those who work in government but I think USDA employees are just the best we could possibly have and they continue to produce so much more because so much more is demanded of them.
"I want to thank all of you for having me here today. It's a pleasure to work with you and your leadership here in Washington and I wish you a very good conference as you move through the week.
" I cannot speak for the President on this bill today. But I do think the President, as I laid out in my remarks, has some principles he would like to see in a drought assistance package and that it should help those most in need, those without risk management tools.
I think it is important that as we move forward we ensure that drought
assistance--as the President said--be offset by the money that has been allocated in the farm bill. Now, there are a number of proposals that are pending in which that is clearly a principle. At this point I think it is premature to talk about what the President will or will not sign but we certainly want to work with the Congress to provide a bipartisan kind of solution to help those most in need.
"I truly recognize that this is a very difficult drought year. It's the drought year that is hurting our farmers. It is the drought year that is causing the worst forest fires
that we've had. It is impacting our department in multiple ways so it has been very difficult. But that is one of the reasons that we in the department-we can't act outside our authorities but we have tried to do everything we can whether it's designating disaster areas as quickly as possible, haying and grazing, which we announced today as well as this creative program we did with feed assistance.
We have been trying to look at every single way that we can--absent the
Congressional action-to deal with drought assistance to farmers, recognizing that people are as you say in very difficult situations in certain parts of the country due to this drought.