Sep 7, 2021
Vilsack discusses USDA agenda during virtual town hall

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack attended a virtual town hall hosted by Farm Journal on Sept. 2, during which he answered questions and discussed numerous potato industry priorities, including the department’s actions on trade, pandemic aid, ag labor reform, and Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).

The Secretary began by recounting USDA’s flurry of action during the first eight months of the Biden Administration, including the roll out of additional Covid-19 aid for producers, efforts to bolster food and ag supply chains, and work on key ag trade issues. On Covid aid, Sec. Vilsack detailed that more than $11 billion has been committed via USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative so far. He also pointed to USDA’s moves relative to the Biden Administration’s broader “Build Back Better” effort and said a key for the department is opening “more, new and better markets” for ag goods.

On the topic of trade, Sec. Vilsack said the administration is working to ensure open and transparent markets — including in the ag sector — with particular emphasis on making sure Canada and Mexico “follow through” on commitments under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). On opening new markets for U.S. exporters, Sec. Vilsack listed positive recent steps by Vietnam to reduce ag import duties, Mexico opening its market to more U.S. potatoes, and work to ink new trade deals — including a U.S./Kenya free trade agreement.

Asked his view of EPA’s decision to replace the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) with a new definition of “waters of the U.S.” under the Clean Water Act (CWA), and what the recent court decision vacating the NWPR might mean, Sec. Vilsack stressed EPA’s commitment to consult with stakeholders — including in the ag sector — on the new rulemaking and predicted the final product will avoid pitfalls seen with both the NWPR and the 2015 WOTUS rule promulgated during the Obama administration. “I think at the end of the day, we’ll be in a much better place than we have been on this issue over the last two administrations,” he said. In terms of the impacts on farmers from a new rule, Sec. Vilsack said he believes EPA will give USDA “some direction about how we might be able to use our tools to mitigate the consequences of whatever the challenges might be for producers.”

Finally, on the topic of agricultural labor and the prospects for passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), Sec. Vilsack said his “hope and anticipation is that the Senate in some way shape or form finds a vehicle for getting (the FWMA) latched onto a bill that gets enough votes to get through the process.” He stressed that lawmakers know the system is “broken” and pitched the FMWA as a narrowly tailored measure “that represents a compromise on the part of both sides.”

Video from the Farm Journal town hall is available here.

EPA decision on chlorpyrifos questioned

The National Potato Council recently joined a group of 31 stakeholders who represent growers, retailers, applicators, manufacturers, processors, cooperatives and crop consultants on a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan opposing the agency’s recent decision to revoke tolerances of chlorpyrifos and the manner in which the revocation was conducted.

The group wrote: “Despite pledges from this Administration to ‘make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data,’ this decision does not reflect the best available science on chlorpyrifos. As a result, this decision has cast the entire agriculture supply chain in a position of great uncertainty and eroded trust in the pesticide regulatory process. We strongly urge EPA to expeditiously issue critically needed guidance for stakeholders for implementing this decision and to recommit itself to the science, risk and evidence-based regulatory process expected by stakeholders and the public.”

The full letter can be found here.

House ag members urge administration to back biotech products

Democratic Members of the House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia), wrote to USTR Ambassador Katharine Tai and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this week regarding non-tariff barriers imposed on agricultural biotechnology products. In the letter, they voice concern that the Biden Administration’s trade agenda is being sidelined by continued non-tariff trade barriers imposed on agricultural biotechnology products. They specifically call out China and Mexico for “failing to comply with their commitments to science-based, and timely regulatory approval processes.” Signees urge China be held accountable under its Phase-One commitments and encourage a range of USMCA enforcement tools to be leveraged against Mexico, if necessary.

New podcast episode

The Eye on Potatoes Podcast hosted Potato LEAF’s 2021-22 Academic Scholarship recipient Thilani Jayakody from the Plant, Soil, and Microbial Science Department at Michigan State University, who joined to talk about her background, research, and future with the potato industry.

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— National Potato Council

75 Applewood Dr. Ste. A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345


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