Secretary Vilsack on Proposed FY 2015 USDA Budget

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the President's proposed budget for USDA in fiscal year 2015 achieves reform and results for the American taxpayer; fosters opportunity for the men and women living, working and raising families in rural America; and supports innovation through strategic, future-focused investments. Vilsack says the proposed budget supports farmers, ranchers and growers as they achieve net farm income well above the average of the previous decade. Among other programs - he says it continues to fund programs that - since 2009 - have helped more than 800-thousand families buy, repair or refinance a home; extended new or improved broadband service for more than seven-million Americans and 364-thousand rural businesses; provided grants and loans to assist nearly 75-thousand rural small and mid-sized businesses in rural America. Vilsack says funding for trade promotion and market expansion will also continue. The budget adds about 23-million acres of land to USDA conservation efforts and sustains 25-million acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program as well. According to Vilsack - the 2015 budget makes strategic investments that further innovation and encourage creative approaches to solving rural America's most pressing challenges. He says the security of the nation's food and fiber supply depends on what is done to support rural America today. Vilsack says the 2015 budget proposal and the tools provided in the new farm bill will help create jobs and drive long-term, sustainable economic growth in rural America - while equipping farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to survive and thrive.

Here are some of the highlights of the USDA budget as presented by USDA:

Support for Agriculture

* Direct and guaranteed loans to support 40,000 producers, 85% of which will be beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged producers. Additional assistance for beginning farmers includes Individual Development Accounts, technical assistance for small farms and others affected by implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and a new program to assist veterans pursue an agriculture career.

* Resources to support crop insurance coverage on an estimated $63 billion in crop production (normalized value).

* Plant and animal pest and disease control programs to protect $165 billion of livestock, poultry and specialty crops.

* Assistance in supporting over $140 billion in agricultural trade, including nearly $4 billion in trade preserved through resolution of foreign market access issues.

Rural Opportunities

* A total of $878 million to support rural business creation and expansion. This level of funding is estimated to provide approximately 44,000 jobs in rural areas. This funding will support revolving loan funds and micro entrepreneur development activities in rural areas. Additionally, funding is provided to support agricultural producers develop and market value added products.

* Loans and grants for water and waste water systems will improve services for 2.2 million people.

* 13.7 million residents will benefit from improved health, safety and educational facilities.

Innovation

* A total of $2.7 billion for agricultural research and extension activities, including $325 million for competitive grants through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and $75 million to fund three new public-private innovation institutes. In-house researchers at the Agricultural Research Service will work on 800 research projects.

* $275 million for Forest Service research, including support to develop cellulosic nanomaterials that have the potential to displace petroleum-based products.

* Reallocation of $44 million in ARS to support additional climate change research to better understand the effects of climate change and its impacts on crops, range lands, pasture systems, forests, endemic pests, weeds, and plant and animal diseases, and develop adaptive strategies and technologies. The new Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change will help to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management.

Modernization

* New poultry slaughter rule that improves food safety and also results in a more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. The proposed rule provides for a science-based, statistically validated, new inspection system that will facilitate the reduction of pathogen levels in poultry products.

* The 2015 budget continues efforts to modernize the farm program delivery system through a model service center concept to ensure offices are strategically located and have adequate staffing and equipment to strengthen services to producers. Savings from consolidation of 250 Farm Service Agency offices would be re-invested in the modernization effort.

* Proposed pilot called 'Rural Corps' that will put economic development professionals in 10 high-need areas to provide technical assistance and hands-on support at the local level. This model will increase the likelihood that investments in infrastructure and economic development are strategic, creating jobs and long-term economic benefits within in the region.

* An increase of $12 million to reduce waste, fraud and abuse in SNAP and ensure that program resources are targeted to those most in need.

* Enhanced crop insurance program compliance efforts to reduce improper payments in this program that provides protection for $63 billion of agricultural production on a normalized basis.

* Continued efforts to improve management of the Department, including additional efforts to consolidate leased and owned office space and the inclusion of a proposal to provide authority to use expired, unobligated funds to invest in facilities and other capital needs to better manage the Department.

[For all the budget highlights: http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/2015budgethighlights.pdf; for the Budget Summary: http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY15budsum.pdf]

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