10/20/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer
LEOLA, Pa. — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited a fledgling small business owner Wednesday to make a point to members of Congress about the need to pass a new Farm Bill.
Members left Washington in late September without passing a new Farm Bill, leaving many federal farm programs, including the dairy support system, in limbo.
Speaking at the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired’s Leola food manufacturing facility in Lancaster County, Vilsack blamed House leadership for refusing to budge on $184 billion in cuts it insists are needed to address the country’s economic problems.
Vilsack said the proposed cuts include $50 billion in cuts to farm programs, such as conservation and crop insurance.
He said the Senate and House agriculture committees could have worked out a compromise on the roughly $11 billion difference in spending cuts each had proposed in separate bills — $23 billion in the Senate, $34 Billion in the House committee.
But he said House leadership insists on deeper cuts, and getting a bill passed before the end of the year may be even more difficult because of automatic spending cuts already scheduled to go into effect.
“So it’s the depth of cuts and House leadership simply didn’t want to have that debate or conversation before an election, they prefer to have it after,” Vilsack said.
“The problem is that debate after will be in the context of all these complicated issues about sequester and across-the-board cuts and tax policy that’s been part of the debate here in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “That makes it a lot more complicated, and there is very little time to get it done.”
Vilsack visited with Sarah Lanphier, co-owner of Nuts About Granola, a York, Pa., company, who is using space at the Leola facility to expand her business and possibly provide jobs to blind and visually impaired people.
Lanphier has connected with Food Export USA Northeast, which gets USDA funding, to sell her granola products in other countries. She already sells product in Colombia through an agreement with a company based there.
Tim Hamilton, executive director of Food Export USA Northeast, said the organization gets USDA funding through its Market Access Program to help introduce small-business owners to overseas markets through connections made at trade shows and educational opportunities.
Vilsack said that without a Farm Bill, USDA can’t provide the resources to Food Export USA Northeast because the funding source just isn’t there.
“The problem is Congress didn’t do its work before Sept. 30 and the Farm Bill expired. That means that I can’t commit to Tim (Hamilton) that there will be the same market-access assistance that I provided him in the past,” Vilsack said. “That program has not yet been reauthorized and until it is, Tim is stuck.
“We’re using events like this to impress upon Congress the need to get its work done to finish the Farm Bill so that I can provide assurances to Tim and his team that they’re going to have the resources, that <@keystone nobold>I<@$p> can still have the programs to help provide community facility loans to the association here to expand its operations or I can work with Sarah to provide guaranteed loans that will allow her to expand more rapidly,” he said.
Although 2011 saw a record $137 billion worth of ag exports, Vilsack said that number will decline slightly this year to $134 billion but rise next year to a new record of $143 billion.
He said most of those agricultural exports will consist of corn and soybeans, but also a growing segment in protein-based products to countries with rapidly expanding economies.
Pennsylvania’s 2011 farm exports totaled $2.1 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 2010.