ATLANTA — It is going to take a "bottom up effort" for American agriculture to meet the demand for food that is seen as more climate friendly, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.

In an address to the 2022 American Farm Bureau Federation national convention at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Monday, Jan. 10, Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is committed to funding pilot and demonstration projects to help farmers meet that demand and find new revenue along the way.

"The exciting news is that we are on the cusp of providing significant help," Vilsack said. The Agriculture Department is committed to funding farm-level projects, he said, because "we don't know everything we need to know, and through pilots and demonstration projects, we can encourage farmers to come together, establish climate smart practices, establish climate smart commodities, and do it in a way that makes sense on the ground."

Vilsack said the bottom-up approach has to be "voluntary and incentive-based."

He also mentioned working with land-grant university to be able to demonstrate and measure the climate-smart practices that the markets are going to demand.

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Vilsack said he was encouraged by Farm Bureau leaders to emphasize that the money for promoting climate-smart projects would come through the Commodity Credit Corporation, "but it's not going to come at the expense of anything we need to do to ensure performance and implementation of Title I programs."

Vilsack said need to take advantage of the new demand.

"It's about creating new revenue streams," he said.

Other talking points during Vilsack's address to the Farm Bureau convention included these USDA efforts:

  • Setting a goal to double to number of acres of cover crops planted in the U.S. to 20 million acres by the year 2030.
  • Prodding China to spend another $16 billion in U.S. ag commodities that it committed to under the phase one trade agreement.
  • Working to simplify the application process for federal disaster aid through the USDA.
  • Fostering competition in the livestock processing industry with programs to help small and medium-side processors, better price reporting, and better enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.

Vilsack also talked about remedies to the supply chain issues that been plaguing agriculture and other industries.

He said the federal government has been able to get ports to extend their hours of operation and set up "pop up ports" near main coastal ports to help relieve congestion. He also said there are now penalties for allowing shipping containers to sit empty at ports and clog up shipping.

One of the areas hit by supply chain issues is fertilizer, where prices have shot up and supplies for the spring are uncertain.

Vilsack said USDA has put out a new risk management tool and crop insurance options farmers have to make fewer fertilizer applications this year. But he was also hopeful about those supplies in the long term.

"I think over the course of the next year or so you're going to see that supply chain begin to catch up to demand and hopefully we'll begin to see greater stability in prices and hopefully be in a position to bring those input costs down and continue to maintain good income."