AFBF attendees hear messages from Biden, Vilsack
American Farm Bureau Federation Convention attendees heard a recorded message from President Joe Biden and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered live remarks during the AFBF Convention on Jan. 10.
Biden expressed his appreciation for farmers and ranchers and highlighted the administration’s priorities related to the Packers and Stockyards Act, infrastructure improvements and promoting fair competition in agricultural markets.
Vilsack addressed the prospect of climate-smart commodities. Vilsack shared his thoughts on broadband deployment, trade negotiations, and investments in livestock processing capabilities.
“Listening to Farm Bureau and listening to those in agriculture, we know that it’s important to establish a partnership in this effort [to create climate-smart commodities],” Secretary Vilsack said. “This is not something that’s top-down, this is really a bottom-up effort.
Vilsack said that markets in both the U.S. and around the world continually demand more climate-smart commodities, and that people are going to want to know where and how various products are produced. At the same time, Vilsack said, markets for climate-smart commodities should be left to the general public and free markets.
“We know that it has to be voluntary, and it has to be incentive-based. It can’t be regulated,” Vilsack continued.
While U.S. farmers have benefitted from increased trade with China, Vilsack noted that the Chinese are $16 billion short of meeting their obligations to purchase U.S. ag products under the Phase One trade agreement. The secretary emphasized that the U.S. would enforce its trade agreements and work to remove barriers to trade.
Vilsack said that while American agriculture is at the forefront of developing precision agriculture, farmers cannot fully realize its potential without significant upgrades to internet access in rural areas. To that end, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed and signed into law in 2021 provides funding for the USDA to help develop rural broadband networks.
“We’ve been talking about infrastructure improvements in this country for at least 10 years or more,” Vilsack said. “We finally got the job done, and part of that is to provide more additional resources for the expansion of broadband. Meaningful broadband. The ability for broadband to actually have the upload and download speeds that will equip you as producers and your members as producers, the opportunity to fully utilize precision agriculture.”
On supply chain issues, Vilsack ran down a list of contributing factors. First, there is strong demand for farmers’ products, which is positive, but after reductions in logistic capability during the pandemic, the supply chain was not prepared for an immediate uptick in demand. Weather, workforce reductions related to people leaving jobs, congestion in U.S. ports and decisions by trading partners to establish export bans have combined to create a complex national problem.
Vilsack said the USDA asked port operators to increase their hours of operation, created disincentives for shipping companies that were leaving empty containers on the docks and established pop-up ports to help relieve the backlog of shipping vessels arriving and departing U.S. ports. The U.S. Department of Labor has worked to accelerate apprenticeship programs to get drivers behind wheels and offset the nationwide shortage of tractor-trailer drivers.
“We are working on the areas that we can control,” Vilsack said. “We’re going to continue to encourage and look for ways to help.”