U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack came to Minnesota on Saturday in part to urge passage of the farm bill in Congress.
Vilsack touted jobs and exports generated by the agriculture industry while visiting St. Paul-based ag transport business Rail Transfer Inc.
Flanked by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both D-Minn., Vilsack said the current extension of the 2008 farm bill was not enough and the new farm bill should be passed.
"An extension of the existing bill did not include any livestock disaster assistance," Vilsack said. "It didn't include a new system for dairy that would've made it a little bit easier for dairy producers in this state to continue in production. Didn't include a rural development commitment; it didn't include an energy title. So all of the things we were talking about in terms of rebuilding this rural economy, that in turn helps to create jobs here in cities, isn't adequately supported with an extension of the existing bill as it was structured."
Vilsack said he was also concerned about the automatic spending cuts that go into effect if federal lawmakers do not agree on the debt ceiling. He said the cuts would cause a "significant disruption" in the agricultural industry, particularly in food safety.
Minnesota's agricultural exports in 2011 amounted to $6.7 billion and supported nearly 40,000 jobs, he said.
"So it's a big, big deal. And it's part of an opportunity to explain why we need a food farm and jobs bill, which is what I like to call the farm bill," he said. "We still have work to get it through the House ... We have to get it done this year."