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Published February 20, 2012, 01:27 PM

No money for bio-facility

Under questioning from Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Feb. 15 that the Obama administration is committed to building a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan., that would replace the facility on Plum Island off Long Island, N.Y.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

Under questioning from Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Feb. 15 that the Obama administration is committed to building a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan., that would replace the facility on Plum Island off Long Island, N.Y.

At a farm bill hearing on energy policy, Roberts said that “most Kansans were surprised, and I think all of agriculture were surprised, stunned actually, when the president’s budget came out on Feb. 13 and proposed no construction funds in 2013, and it also proposed a new task force to determine if a new facility is actually needed.”

Roberts asked, “Mr. Secretary, do you believe construction of this facility is vital to our nation’s food and agriculture security?”

According to a transcript provided by Roberts’s office, Vilsack said he is looking for ways to move some of the work now done at Plum Island to Kansas this year.

“Obviously, we’re going to continue to work with you, and work with the committee, and work with the Congress, to make sure folks understand the significance of this facility, to make sure that they understand the concerns we have with the Plum Island facility and some of the needed repairs that would be required, and the cost of those repairs, over a period of 10, 15, 20 years, and whether or not we’d be better off as a country having a modern facility,” Vilsack said.

“This is critical for us. It’s critical for us in terms of being able to identify problems and being able to accurately analyze the extent of the problem,” the secretary said. “As we become engaged more in global trade and as agriculture becomes a great story for American exports, we obviously want to be able to maintain our good reputation around the world.”

Vilsack added, however, that there is still a lot of design work to be done.

“We have to make sure that it is adequate to contain some very dangerous materials that they’ll have to deal with,” he said. “But my hope is that is we can find a way to get this built at some point.”

As she opened the first farm bill hearing of the year, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., emphasized the role that rural development programs play in job creation.

“Bio-based manufacturing is a great example of new opportunities in rural America through innovative businesses that create good jobs,” Stabenow said. “Making new products out of agricultural materials creates new markets for farms and new jobs and opportunities in towns across the country.”

Vilsack asked the committee to consider making USDA’s 40 rural development programs more flexible and streamlining the agency’s grant and loan authority to reduce the number of programs.

Roberts, in a news release, emphasized the success of Kansas projects, but also faulted President Barack Obama for not including cuts to nutrition programs in his budget proposal.

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